MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Phones, drugs, and other contraband are making their way into Alabama's prison system, and now Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn is answering questions from lawmakers about corruption from correctional officers.
Dunn, speaking to the legislative judiciary committees, admitted it's an issue that needs to be addressed, calling corruption "unacceptable". In the last 20 months, the commissioner says more than 70 members of ADOC's corrections staff have been arrested, resigned or have pending charges against them related to contraband.
Legislators want to make sure that before they commit $800 million to build four new mega-prisons, they can trust the people who will be running them.
Dunn says he's tried to clamp down on illegal contraband and corruption, from training to investigations. But the reality is that most corrections officers make around $30,000 per year and there aren't enough eyes to watch everyone. He believes the risk grows daily as prisons become more crowded.
State Sen. Cam Ward, who is the judiciary committee chairman, agrees corruption is a problem.
"Officers can't win, unfortunately," Ward said. "They are overworked. They are understaffed. They are underpaid."
"I support Commissioner Dunn 110 percent, as everybody on this committee does," said State Rep. Allen Farley. "But at this point, I don't believe building new prisons until you take care of what's going on inside the prisons is all we need to be talking about."
Farley said he's talked to recent prisoners who say 'it's no longer the Department of Correction, to us, it's the Department of Corruption."
Dunn is quick to point out that most corrections officer do a great job, but with overcrowding and under staffing, it's hard to fix the system.