MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A more than 250-page report on the recruitment and retention of correctional officers in Alabama’s state prisons was unsealed this week as a part of the ongoing federal litigation involving a civil lawsuit filed against the Alabama Department of Corrections in 2015.
The report has remained out of the public purview for some time, but this week District Judge Myron Thompson ordered the report to be unsealed due to the current legislative deliberations over correctional staffing and salaries and the public’s right to be informed.
“Because the public’s interest in accessing the redacted sections outweighs defendants’ interest in confidentiality, the court will grant plaintiffs’ motion to unseal the entire report,” Thompson’s order stated. “The court will detail its reasoning in an opinion to follow. However, at present, it bears noting that the public has an enormous interest in accessing the recommended compensation increases, in light of the current legislative and administrative deliberations over correctional compensation, and the public’s strong interest in overseeing government spending. Furthermore, defendants’ interest in confidentiality is significantly diminished by the fact that they have already voluntarily disclosed to the public information indicating that they will increase compensation for correctional officers.”
After Braggs v. Dunn was filed, ADOC was ordered to improve correctional staffing among other systemic inmate mental health issues.
The court order said the ADOC needs about 2,000 correctional officers by 2022.
The Alabama Department of Corrections contracted with Warren Averett in 2017 to review ADOC’s procedures when it comes to recruiting and retaining correctional officers. The ADOC received the report in 2018 and released it publicly Thursday.
The results of the study paint a harsh picture of the chronic under staffing in Alabama’s prisons.
“In one year alone, twenty percent of correctional officers working in ADOC facilities chose to resign,” the report stated.
The report recommends that the starting base salary for a correctional officer be increased from $29,371 to approximately $36,500 to $38,500.
“Increasing the starting salary will make the base pay more competitive with other positions in the marketplace and will reduce the impact of compensation as a deterrent for those considering a career in public safety,” the report stated.
Alabama political leaders are discussing legislation that would increase pay for correctional officers.
Sen. Cam Ward’s bill would raise pay for officers by 5%. With additional proposed state employee increases, correctional officers would see around a 7% pay increase. Starting salary would be around $31,456 – thousands of dollars less than the recommendations in the report from Warren Averett.
The ADOC said the Department of Personnel is able to make some changes administratively to meet the recommendations from the ADOC’s consultant.
“The ADOC has been working diligently on the recommendations provided in the Warren Averett report,” said ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn. “We are pleased to be able to share the contents of this report and are excited to announce that the current ADOC Academy class is the largest since 2015. With this momentum, recruitment efforts are projected to generate a significant increase than seen in years past.”
Ward said he has told the ADOC to notify the legislature immediately if they cannot meet the recommendations, so the legislature can appropriate more money.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice released a scathing report on ADOC. The DOJ found constitutional violations in the state’s prisons and warned it might sue the state within the next two months if Alabama officials do not “satisfactorily address the issues.”
The DOJ’s findings were the result of an investigation opened in 2016.