MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama prison system is raising salaries for correctional officers — increasing starting pay to more than $50,000 annually — in an effort to lure workers and address an ongoing staff shortage.
Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm told reporters Wednesday that he hopes the raises will be be a good start to remedying the department's staffing challenges.
“This is an enticement. We feel like it will increase our numbers because all these others little things we were doing were not moving the needle. So this is the next step to get people to come to work for the Department of Corrections," Hamm said.
The starting pay for a correctional officer trainee will rise from a minimum of $33,381 to a minimum of $50,712, with additional pay for those who work at high security facilities. The starting pay at a medium security facility will be $53,244 and $55,855 at a maximum security facility. Officers not at that level currently will also see their pay rise.
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The tight labor workers has both private companies and state agencies competing for workers. Hamm said the state prisons compete with local sheriffs' offices and police departments for officers who have completed law enforcement training.
“We need to be competitive with other law enforcement entities. This makes us competitive," Hamm said.
The Alabama Department of Corrections announced the raises earlier this month and has rolled out a recruitment and marketing campaign. The department has scheduled recruitment events across the state.
The pay raises come as the state has seen the number of officers working in state prisons shrink despite a court order to increase staffing. The number of security employees, in positions ranging from cubicle operator to warden, dropped from 2,225 on Sept. 30, 2021, to 1,758 on Dec. 31, according to quarterly reports submitted to the Joint Legislative Prison Oversight Committee.
A federal judge last month questioned the state's lack of progress in complying with his order to increase the number of officers working in state lockups. In 2017, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson found that mental health care in Alabama prisons is so inadequate that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. He said understaffing is a root issue of the problem and ordered the state to increase the number of corrections officers.
Stacy George, a former corrections officers who unsuccessfully ran for governor last year, praised the decision to raise pay, noting he made about $28,000 when he started with the department 13 years ago.
"I think these raises are an amazing first step, a very bold move by Governor Ivey and Commissioner Hamm," George wrote in a text message to the Associated Press. George said improving retirement benefits and eliminating mandatory overtime that officers are required to work would be beneficial in retaining workers.