When Aaron Parson left his job as a North Carolina prison officer last year, he was making $32,000. The income barely helped to support a wife and two kids. When state Department of Public Safety (DPS) Secretary Erik Hooks received a $23,400 pay raise last month, Parson thought, “The people who run the prisons in Raleigh only look out for themselves,” the Charlotte Observer reports. Hooks, who oversees a department of 25,000 employees plus 11,000 National Guard soldiers, is now paid $179,400. Jill Lucas of the state’s Office of Human Resources said pay for cabinet members is reviewed periodically, and the increase Hooks received was because of added work.
“The Secretary’s increased responsibilities reflect the state being hit by Hurricane Florence and other natural disasters, as well as additional demands in his role as Homeland Security Advisor,” Lucas wrote. Sen. Bob Steinburg, who chairs a committee on prison safety, said he was “flabbergasted” by the timing of Hooks’ raise. The senate is reviewing whether to remove the prison system from DPS control and recreate a Department of Corrections, which the state had in 2011. “Here we’ve got someone who’s been given a raise April 1 with all of this stuff potentially pending,” Steinburg said. “And we have chaos within corrections.” That chaos includes low pay and a high vacancy rate for prison officers. Last December, 18 percent of officer positions were vacant. Some prisons had a vacancy rate of more than 35 percent at some point last year. Bertie Correctional Institution was short-staffed in 2017 when Sgt. Meggan Callahan was allegedly attacked and killed by an inmate. Despite pay raises in recent years, North Carolina correctional officers are paid 22 percent less than the national average.