Ala. DOC behind on meeting court order to alleviate CO staffing shortage

The Department of Justice said a severe staffing shortage helped create what the DOJ alleged last year were unconstitutional conditions in Alabama's men's prisons

By Mike Cason
Alabama Media Group

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Alabama Department of Corrections is not on track to meet a federal court order to more than double the number of correctional officers in the state’s overcrowded and violent prisons.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued an order Monday telling the ADOC to explain by Friday how it plans to meet the hiring requirement.

The Department of Justice said a severe staffing shortage helped create what the DOJ alleged last year were unconstitutional conditions in Alabama’s men’s prisons.

Alabama Democratic Party Chair Chris England, a state representative from Tuscaloosa who served on Gov. Kay Ivey’s prison study group, is urging the governor to call a special session on criminal justice reform in a series of tweets today.

In Thompson’s order on Monday, the judge wrote that the ADOC has increased the number of correctional officers from 1,301 to 1,413 over the last 12 months. But that’s way behind the pace needed to reach the required 3,326 officers by February 2022, Thompson noted.

The ADOC is losing supervisors. The number of supervisors has dropped from 359 to 313 in the last year, Thompson wrote. His order requires the ADOC to have 500 supervisors by February 2022.

“ADOC would need to gain approximately 213 officers and approximately 23 supervisors per quarter for each of the eight remaining quarters in order to meet this court’s order,” Thompson wrote.

Thompson based the required numbers on a staffing analysis by consultants for the ADOC.

That came as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates in 2014 over health care, mental health care, and accommodations for disabled inmates.

Thompson ruled three years ago that mental health care in prisons was “horrendously inadequate” and said the shortage of staff was a root cause.

The case is separate from the U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found conditions in Alabama prisons in violation of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment because of the levels of violence, weapons, drugs, and other problems. But the federal lawsuit and DOJ investigation have many overlapping issues, including the overcrowding and under staffing.

Ivey has pledged to tackle problems that have plagued Alabama prisons for decades. She is seeking proposals from companies to build three men’s prisons that the state would lease and operate.

The ADOC created a new basic correctional officer position to try to address the staffing shortage by getting officers on the job with a shorter training period. Basic correctional officers now make up about one-fifth of the staff and account for the increase in the last 12 months, Thompson wrote.


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