Pay raises increase Ala. state prison staffing
State DoC commissioner tells lawmakers having enough COs is the key to stopping violence and managing rehabilitation programs
By Mike Cason
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Pay raises for correctional officers announced in March have helped reverse a trend of declining staff in Alabama’s overcrowded prisons, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm told lawmakers this week.
The prisons are understaffed, but Hamm said the pay raises have raised the interest of job applicants and are attracting former and retired employees back to the job.
Hamm reported the staff numbers to the Legislature’s prison oversight committee on Wednesday.
“Recruiting, hiring and retention is the number one issue facing the department,” Hamm said.
Under the new pay scale, correctional officer trainees who complete the 10-week academy have a starting salary of no less than about $51,000, about $12,000 to $15,000 more than under the previous plan. The starting pay is higher at medium and maximum security prisons.
A shortage of correctional officers has been a problem for years and is a main factor in lawsuits against the state over inmate health care and violence in prisons, including a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Hamm said the ADOC has 1,693 correctional officers and other security staff personnel and has 727 positions that are funded but vacant, about 30%.
But Hamm said the need exceeds the 2,420 funded positions. He said having enough officers is the key to stopping violence and managing programs needed to help inmates rehabilitate and avoid landing back in prison.
“We’ve got to be around 2,700 or 3,000 correctional officers to be able to do the things we need to do on the inside, all the programs we need to run because this is the business that we do not want repeat customers,” Hamm said. “And we need to do everything we can to make that happen.”
A report for the quarter that ended June 30 showed the ADOC has 1,744 employees on its security staff, up from 1,705 on March 31. While that is a modest increase, it reversed a negative trend. The ADOC had a net loss of 415 on its security staff during fiscal year 2022 and a net loss of 197 during fiscal year 2021.
Hamm said 60 new hires graduated from the ADOC’s 10-week training academy last week. Another class of 75 candidates begins on Oct. 9. The ADOC operates four classes each year.
“The 60 we just graduated, that helped tremendously,” Hamm said. “Hopefully we’ll graduate 75, but realistically we’ll probably graduate 65, 67 next class. We’re headed in the right direction.”
“We have 21,000 people (inmates) that we take care of 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Hamm said. “So there are no off days. So it takes a lot of resources.”
Hamm said the agency has 806 active applications for correctional officer trainee and correctional security guard. He said 20 full-time employees who had left the ADOC have been rehired since June 19. And the ADOC is hoping to attract retired state employees with Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training certification. A new law passed this year allows the ADOC to pay certain retirees up to $52,000 a year to work as correctional officers.
The commissioner said the ADOC loses some job candidates because of news about the violence, overcrowding, and poor conditions in Alabama’s prisons. But he said there are good opportunities for the right people.
“It’s a very good time to go to work for the Department of Corrections if you’re public safety-minded, if you want to work, because career advancement is probably the best it’s been in years and years because of those vacancies,” Hamm said. “If you come in and you do your job, you have great opportunities for advancement.”
Hamm said the ADOC’s recruiting efforts include plans to staff two new, 4,000-bed prisons for men. A prison under construction in Elmore County is expected to be finished in 2026. The second prison is planned for Escambia County.
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