York County Sheriff William L. King Jr. said the county is offering a signing bonus for new hires at York County Jail to help fill 20 correctional officer vacancies. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

ALFRED — York County is offering a $1,500 signing bonus to new hires at York County Jail.

With Maine’s low unemployment and heavy recruiting efforts by industries like Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and Pratt & Whitney in North Berwick, among others, corrections officers are taking jobs elsewhere, said York County Sheriff William L. King Jr.

As of Monday, 20 of 76 corrections officer positions were vacant, the sheriff said.

The unemployment rate in York County was 2.5 percent in August, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

“The economy is good,” said King.

“People are looking around,” said York County government Human Resources Director Linda Corliss.

The number of vacancies doesn’t rise to the level of a staffing emergency, the sheriff said, but staff are working plenty of overtime.

The vacancies also mean the command staff – jail administrator, jail captains and the sheriff –  have been pitching in to help, pulling shifts at night or on the weekends.

Starting pay for a new corrections officer is $16.80 per hour, but a contract signed between the county and the National Correctional Employees Union several months ago increases the pay by $1 an hour after the first year. Combined with the signing bonus, which offers $750 after completion of the corrections academy training and the remaining $750 after an employee’s initial one year probation, York County becomes “extremely competitive” with other corrections institutions, said County Manager Greg Zinser.

King and Corliss say there are good reasons to consider a career in corrections.

“It is a professional environment and provides opportunities for truly helping people,” said King. “After the initial year, the pay increases dramatically and the sign-on bonus helps.”

Those hired are trained at county expense and earn a salary during the training period. The county offers health, dental and other benefits, promotions, and there are opportunities for officers to work in different areas within the jail, like intake or classifications, Corliss said.

“If you want a career and you’re not going to go to college, this is a great idea,” she added.

As well as full-time officers, York County Jail is also looking for part-time corrections staff, and is considering hosting a “part-time” academy later this year.

Zinser said the county has begun to talk to the NCEU about offering flexible schedules and rotating shifts, in an effort to make the job more enticing —  the jail is an operation which requires staffing all day every day of the year, which doesn’t always appeal.

He described the staffing shortage as “critical.”

“We are looking at a host of short-term solutions we might be able to implement,” said Zinser. He said one potential solution is to consider whether  the county should look at boarding inmates at other jails.

“We recognize we’re down and doing everything we can do to encourage people to apply for these positions,” said Zinser.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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