Justice Secretary John Tilley | Courtesy of Kentucky.Gov

The Kentucky Department of Corrections informed state probation and parole officers on Friday that the 12 percent salary raises promised to them last month — and supposed to go into effect the next day — were now on hold, blaming errors made by “former leadership” at the department.

In a statement to Insider Louisville, Justice and Public Safety Cabinet spokesman Mike Wynn said those unnamed former Corrections leaders “misled” the cabinet and staff about the raises, which had not received the correct legal vetting.

“Unfortunately, former leadership at the Department of Corrections made promises without first meeting all the legal requirements, and both the Justice Cabinet and P&P officers were misled about this plan,” stated Wynn. “However, the Justice Cabinet still supports raising P&P salary, and we are helping the department work through the steps now. We will continue to keep employees updated about our progress.”

As first reported by Insider Louisville in February, the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet approved a plan to give all of its parole and probation officers and supervisors a 12 percent raise effective March 16, implemented with funds within the division’s existing personnel budget through the elimination of vacant positions.

A week after this was first announced to staff, Wynn told Insider that Justice Cabinet Secretary John Tilley approved of the plan to increase salaries in January, as these raises “will help improve recruitment and retention at a time when strong, effective probation and parole is more crucial than ever.”

The announcement of the raises to probation and parole staff occurred just days before the cabinet confirmed to Insider that the commissioner and operations director of the Department of Corrections had been fired, though no reason was given for that decision.

Former Kentucky Department of Corrections Commissioner James Erwin | Photo via KDOC

The terminated commissioner, Jim Erwin, responded last week by filing a wrongful termination lawsuit, accusing the Justice Cabinet of firing him over his refusal to fire two black employees who were under what he called a “deficient” investigation from the cabinet’s internal investigation division.

The Justice Cabinet responded to the lawsuit with a statement asserting that Erwin’s “false claims are an obvious attempt to distract from the wrongdoing that occurred under Mr. Erwin’s command. The Justice Cabinet will not be intimidated from rooting out deception and misconduct, and we will have much more to share regarding this situation very soon.”

In the letter to probation and parole staff on Friday from Department of Corrections Acting Commissioner Jonathan Grate and director of Probation and Parole Johnathan Hall, they stated that the department remains “100 percent committed” to securing the raises, but there would have to be a “delay.”

“Unfortunately, in the haste to tell you about the raises, former leadership at the Department had not taken all the legally and operationally-required steps,” states the letter. “Those steps are what we are working through now, which include the complete vetting by the Personnel Cabinet and Office of the State Budget Director. We are working to ensure that raises are implemented in the most equitable manner possible.”

After officers and supervisors in the division were first informed of their raises in February, corrections officials told them they would have to resign from their positions and be rehired to receive the 12 percent raise, in addition to being told that 75 vacant positions would be eliminated and this would not affect their pension benefits.

The resign and rehire plan — in addition to eliminating positions, which would increase officers’ already packed caseloads — drew the skepticism of some staff, who questioned the details of how that would work and affect their pension.

The Cabinet spokesman did not answer nine emails from Insider over the past month asking for details and specifics about how the resign and rehire plan would work.

On Friday, Wynn would not specify if “former leadership” referred to Erwin.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]