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Alabama Department of Corrections faces challenges hiring and retaining staff

Ask anyone with insight into the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), and they’ll tell you it’s understaffed.

That was the takeaway from a briefing of Alabama Legislature budget committees on Thursday. New ADOC commissioner John Hamm told lawmakers that not only was ADOC struggling to hire security guards, but it also lacked drug counselors, stewards and staff. administrative.

Hamm took over the struggling state prison system after the departure of ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn in December. Hamm said ADOC was struggling to implement its employee growth plan.

“We are looking at every possible way to attract applicants to the Department of Corrections,” Hamm said. “I’m not just talking about security personnel.”

Hamm added that ADOC currently has only 1,879 security officers. There are 541 vacancies. Among the administrative staff, ADOC has 1,163 employees and 261 vacancies.

The personnel department, responsible for hiring and retaining staff, also has only 12 employees with vacancies.

The accounting department has as many vacancies as employees, and ADOC has only 59 addiction counselors and 42 vacancies.

State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) chairs the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee.

“We are under a court order to hire 2,000 new guards, and we have just over 1,900 today,” Albritton said. “We’re going in the wrong direction. It’s actually worse this year.”

“All my colleagues have the same problem,” Hamm replied. “We have to find a way to entice people to come and become a corrections officer.”

State Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, said as a lawmaker, many constituents come to him for help. to get jobs and contracts in the state.

“Everybody wants to be a game warden, but in 28 years I’ve never had someone call me and ask for help getting a job at the Department of Corrections,” Clouse said.

“What we’re doing isn’t working,” Hamm lamented. “I’m open to suggestions – anything.”

Hamm said ADOC uses social media, broadcast media, radio, billboards, word of mouth, “and we also have recruiting events.”

“We retained a company called Horizon Point for recruitment,” Hamm explained.

Hamm said attitudes toward ADOC jobs have changed.

“When I first arrived to work for the state, you posted a job description and hundreds of people came to apply,” Hamm said. “It’s not like that anymore.

“We also retained the services of a company called Ripplework, an Alabama-based company, for the wellness program that they have. We have to not only recruit employees, but make sure we retain the employees that we have. . They’ve been in the job for about a month.”

Hamm explained that the starting salary for a correctional security officer is $33,000. The scale tops out at around $56,000. If they start at 21, under Tier II retirement, they can retire at 56 after a 35-year career.

“We compete with other law enforcement agencies in the state,” Hamm told lawmakers. “Most of these departments start in their mid-40s [in salary]. They’re jumping on us and going to work for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, Troy Police Department, etc.”

State Representative Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville) is a retired police chief from Huntsville.

“Your starting salary is $33,000,” Reynolds said. “Law enforcement is $42,000, and it’s going up. I just googled it, and it’s almost $50,000. It’s really hard to compete with that.”

“I’ve heard from other department heads, and they have similar issues,” Hamm pointed out. “We need to be more agile.”

Hamm said ADOC’s $9 million hiring and retention bonus program was set to expire Dec. 31.

“We will propose some changes to you in this regard and seek to extend the deadline to December 31, 2022,” Hamm said.

“It seems like the bonuses aren’t working or are misapplied,” Albritton replied. “Let’s have a plan that will actually work. Not only do we have $9 million, but we spend millions on overtime.

“We have a significant overtime budget for correctional officers,” Hamm said. “We have mandated overtime assignments for correctional officers.”

“They’re not going to work more than 16 hours” a day, Hamm assured lawmakers.

“They’re definitely overloaded, and it’s taking a physical and mental toll on them,” Reynolds said.

State Rep. Paul Lee (R-Dothan) said, “We’re trying to make sure we’re meeting all the needs officers need.”

Hamm said ADOC had recruited a number of retired state employees.

“We have just over 300 retired state employees working for us,” Hamm advised. “They are vital to our operations.”

Hamm suggested that ADOC start hiring part-time workers.

“Those who are out there looking [for a job]they may not want a full-time job,” Hamm explained. “We may be able to reintegrate some of these people into the labor market.

Hamm said the Department has completed land clearing and site preparation work on the new Elmore County mega-jail and is working on the concrete slab, and has begun work on the new Elmore County mega-jail. ‘Escambia. The Elmore County mega-jail will open in January 2026.

“It will be a monumental task to transfer inmates to this new facility as well as the one in Escambia,” Hamm said. “You’re just not moving 4,000 prisoners. We’ve already started planning.”

“I think the new facilities will help us recruit,” Reynolds said.

“Our primary source of new employees is word of mouth from our current employees,” Hamm said. “Our staff shortage is having an impact on that.”

Hamm said 75% of ADOC’s budget is spent on employee compensation, benefits, legal and medical costs.

The Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against ADOC on behalf of current and former inmates. This trial is in the courtroom of Judge Myron Thompson. The Justice Department also sued the state, arguing that the inhumane conditions and violence at ADOC facilities make incarceration in Alabama “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

“You’ve been very supportive of the office of corrections and the litigation that we’re trying to deal with,” Hamm said.

Hamm added that the prison population has steadily increased since the Department lifted COVID-19 restrictions that left many prisoners in county jails.

“When it goes up to a hundred a month, you start to worry,” Hamm said.

The next meeting of the budget committees will take place in September.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email brandon.moseley@1819News.com.

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