OMAHA, Neb. — Turnover is increasing among Nebraska prison guards despite the state’s efforts to improve pay.

Turnover increased to 34 percent among prison guards last year from the previous year’s 31 percent, even though the state is giving 7 percent pay increases to guards, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Nebraska’s prison system is being scrutinized closely by lawmakers and other officials because of several incidents, including two deadly riots at Tecumseh State Prison since 2015 and ongoing overcrowding throughout the system.

State prison guards are often forced to work overtime to help fill shifts left vacant because of the staff shortages. And guards with some experience can find better pay and hours by taking a job at a county jail in Lincoln or Omaha.

Recently, the Corrections Department started using a state van to drive 10 guards from Omaha to and from the Tecumseh State Prison while being paid for the time to help ease shortages. Corrections Director Scott Frakes said the van program will be expanded to 40 guards.

Frakes said increasing pay is only part of the solution. Past incidents at the prisons and assaults on staff also affect retention.

State Sen. John Stinner of Gering, who leads the Appropriations Committee, said he’s frustrated with the continuing problems at the prisons. Stinner said he thinks corrections’ long-running problems with staff turnover might not be fixable given the current budget constraints.

Stinner said he thinks the state may have to rethink its approach to the problem. A new contract with the state employees union will be negotiated later this year.

Currently, the starting wage for most prison guards is $16.74 an hour, although many new workers are being hired at the rank of corporal, which pays $18.16 an hour.

That lags behind the $20.38 an hour Sarpy County Jail guards receive and the $18.30 per hour the Lancaster County Jail pays new guards. In Lancaster County, the pay jumps to $21.22 an hour after a year.

Information from: Omaha World-Herald,

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