COMP NEWS – The Alabama Department of Corrections has been struggling with understaffing, even after introducing incentive programs such as new employee bonuses to acquire staff.
The Alabama Department of Corrections continues to struggle with understaffing, ADOC Commissioner John Hamm told state lawmakers today.
Hamm, who began work as commissioner of the troubled Alabama prison system in January, said the ADOC has 1,879 officers and 541 vacancies out of 2,420 budgeted positions.
Hamm gave those numbers as part of a slide presentation to the Legislature’s budget committees. The committees are hearing from agencies this summer on the impact of inflation and other issues as they prepare for next year’s budgets.
The ADOC staff shortage is more severe than the numbers Hamm presented considering that a federal court order requires the agency to add 2,000 officers. ADOC has been working on that several years but has been losing ground, said Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, chairman of the Senate General Fund committee.
Commissioner John Hamm has said that part of the difficulty in hiring correctional officers is that the pay and hours are less enticing than other law enforcement positions, like police officers.
Hamm said a key problem for hiring correctional officers is that the pay is less than for other law enforcement positions. Hamm said typical starting pay is about $33,000, compared to roughly $45,000 to $50,000 for sheriff and police departments.
He said officers work eight, 10, and 12-hour shifts and that some work mandatory overtime, up to 16 hours at a stretch.
The struggles to hire in correctional facilities have been ongoing for several years.
The understaffing and other problems for prisons are familiar topics for legislators. The Department of Justice sued the state in 2020, alleging that conditions in men’s prisons violate the Constitution because of the level of violence and other problems. The federal court order requiring 2,000 additional officers stems from a 2014 lawsuit over the quality of medical care and mental health care. Both cases are ongoing.
The Legislature has increased funding for prisons in recent years and for bonuses intended to hire and retain officers. Since February 2019, the ADOC has paid a total of $9 million in bonuses to 1,929 employees, Hamm said. Examples of bonuses are $1,500 for graduating from correctional officer training and $1,500 for a promotion to sergeant or above. Employees can get up to a total of $7,500 in bonuses. The bonus program expires at the end of this year.
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