Unemployment is down and wages are up in Kansas — except for corrections officers.

They are leaving state prisons in droves because of low pay. It's creating a public safety crisis that legislators will have to deal with on top of plugging a budget hole.

Their starting pay is about 33 percent less than the state's average hourly wage of $20.20.

Their overall wages are about a quarter lower than the national average. The annual turnover rate is up to nearly 30 percent.

Things are so bad that the state is hiring 18-year-olds to manage hardened criminals, despite some prison leaders' misgivings.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback says he favors higher wages for corrections officers but state spending will be pinched by at least $160 million in the next fiscal year.