With 200 open jobs, new Utah prison ups perks including $6k bonus

Mar 24, 2022, 7:55 PM | Updated: Jun 18, 2022, 8:50 pm

The new Utah State Corrections Facility is just months from opening, and the rush is on for the Department of Corrections to hire enough staff to operate it.

At first glance, the state-of-the-art buildings looks mostly finished, aside from construction crews here and there working on final projects.

It’s home stretch since the groundbreaking over four years ago.

“It’s an exciting time,” said Sergeant Steven Hansen. He oversees the field training program for new corrections officers and works on the offender release program.

During a tour with Sgt. Hansen and other employees Thursday, most things appeared to be in place. Security cameras were up and running with the latest technology, and mattresses and pillows were stocked in each cell.

Aside from the chain-link fencing and barbed wire, the facility feels less like a prison stereotype and more like a welcoming campus.

An interior designer chose light, earthy colors based on Utah’s natural landscape and each section features its own color. For example, general population is noted by a muted sage green on the doors, while the behavioral and mental health wing features a peachy pink.

Most things are nearing completion, except for one important component: Staffing.

“We’re hoping to hire a couple hundred officers, honestly,” said Spencer Turley, Director of Prison Operations.

That’s on top of the 140 corrections officers he said they’re already short in Draper. He explained how the summer deadline becomes more urgent with the fact that new hires spend three to four months in the academy, followed by four weeks in the field training program before they’re ready to go.

“If we were ever to come to a point where we said, ‘You know what, we can’t adequately staff the prison,’ then we would have to get to the point of, ‘What do we shut down?’ Turley said.

They have contingency plans in place, that Turley said include utilizing the prison in Gunnison or the DOC’s contract with county jails.

They’re doing everything to prevent that, he said.

The Department of Corrections has faced its fair share of hiring and retention issues, with corrections officers facing challenges in overtime, burnout, and mental health.

Many officers have left for local police departments offering higher salaries, which was a huge argument during legislative session funding requests.

Exacerbating the problem, Sgt. Hansen and Turley relayed, is simply the age of the current facility. Completed in 1951, they talked about how the Draper prison is dark, disjointed, and decades behind in technology.

“When people are working in a dungeon, we get depressed,” Sgt. Hansen said. “I had my time there where we got super low, it gets really dark”

Twelve hours a day in a dark, depressing dungeon affects someone’s mood, he expressed.

“We’re the ones that are helping run this place, we’re making this place function,” Sgt. Hansen said. “And just like with any relationship with anybody, if one part is struggling all parts are going to struggle.”

He has high hopes for change.

Hansen can see it just looking at the walls and windows of the new correctional facility, which are designed to let natural light flood in and make each room feel bright.

Each block features 14-foot-tall windows with views most would be envious of. The campus itself, which is north of I-80 west of the 7200 West exit, is surrounded by Antelope Island, the Oquirrh Mountains and Wasatch Mountains.

The DOC included several perks in the new facility design, like a wellness room, exercise rooms, daycare, and dining hall just for staff.

“Knowing that we have all these things, all these tools out here for us, like a fitness room– it’s fantastic for our mental health,” Hansen said.

And with help from the legislature this last session, the DOC is bumping salaries.

“They’ve given us historic pay raises this year. They gave us more money for pay raises this year, than we’ve ever had in the history of our department,” Turley said.

Turley added that on top of those funds set aside by lawmakers, an additional 3.5 percent raise kicks in, in July.

The DOC is paying one for one when it comes to experience, Turley also said. That means if they hire someone with five years of experience, the DOC will bring that person in as if they’ve worked there for five years, rather than at entry level.

The cherry on top of the deal, is a $6,000 bonus Turley said they’re giving correctional officers they hire.

Hansen sees this as a new start.

“This is a brand-new place. This is a brand-new thing that we’re trying to do, all of our programs– that we’re trying to change the offenders, trying to change society,” he said. “This is all brand new. We want people to be a part of that with us.”

They just need those people to take the leap, and apply.

The Department of Corrections is hosting a job fair April 14-16 at the new correctional facility. In addition to corrections officers, Turley said the DOC is hiring other positions like therapists and food service workers. Click here to browse open jobs, and apply.

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With 200 open jobs, new Utah prison ups perks including $6k bonus