By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Department of Corrections has 541 vacant, state-funded positions for correctional officers across its prisons.
And while the agency has given out more than $9 million in retention and hiring bonuses since 2019, it’s seen a net decrease in correctional officers the past two years, according to information shared at the State House Thursday
“We are looking at every possible way to attract candidates to the Alabama Department of Corrections…” Director John Hamm told a panel of lawmakers.
He later said he’s considering asking the Legislature for more money next year to increase ADOC salaries. Meanwhile, creating part-time staff positions may draw a wider pool of potential employees who need some flexibility.
“A part-time position may be attractive to some people,” Hamm said.
A series of informal State House budget hearings this summer have given state agencies an opportunity to discuss inflation-caused issues they’re having. Lawmakers on Thursday also wanted to know about ADOC’s chronic staffing issues. The vacancies Hamm discussed do not include a court-ordered increase of staffing by 2025. There are currently about 1,880 security personnel in prisons.
“We’ve got to double the force,” Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, told Hamm, citing numbers that showed recent decreases in correctional staff. “We’ve been trying to do that for years, and we’re moving in the wrong direction. We’ve got to figure this out.”
“Absolutely,” said Hamm, who was appointed director of the 20,000-inmate system in January by Gov. Kay Ivey.
“…We need to be able to pivot and do whatever it takes to get candidates, qualified candidates, in the door,” Hamm said. “I’m open to suggestions.”
Hamm said his agency is competing with local law enforcement agencies for potential correctional officers. Meanwhile, there’s also a shortage of administrators and support staff in multiple departments, including accounting and personnel.
Hamm said starting correctional officers earn about $33,000 per year. Currently, the agency is requiring correctional officers work overtime to cover shifts. Many are working 12 to 16 hour days, Hamm said.
The ADOC is almost entirely funded through the state’s General Fund. For the 2023 budget year that starts Oct. 1, the agency will receive $594.6 million. Hamm said about 75% of its expenses are salaries and benefits, inmate medical care and legal fees for lawsuits against the agency. Albritton asked for more details on the legal expenses.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in 2017 ordered ADOC to increase prison staffing by 2,000 people. Late last year, when it was clear the state wouldn’t meet that goal, he extended the deadline to 2025.
Thompson’s order came after the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2014 sued ADOC over the conditions within the prisons and lack of medical and mental health care.
Last fall, the Alabama Legislature passed and Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a plan to spend $1.3 billion to build at least two new men’s prisons in Elmore and Escambia counties. The Elmore site will provide enhanced medical and mental health services. Hamm on Thursday said site prep had begun in Elmore County and the tentative completion date is early 2026.
ADN Publisher Todd Stacy contributed to this report.