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House Committee approves pay raises for corrections officers

Brandon Moseley

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On Wednesday, April 24 the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee gave a favorable report to a bill giving a substantial pay raise to Alabama Department of Corrections officers.

House Bill 468 is sponsored by State Rep. Christopher John England, D-Tuscaloosa.

England said the increase in pay has already been included in the state General Fund budget that has passed the House.

“We have a crisis in the prison system,” England said.

HB468 creates a compensation offer to hire more corrections officers. There is a new corrections guard position that requires less training. It creates a compensation package for that.

England said the bill also creates bonuses to retain current employees.

This bill provides a two-step salary increase for corrections officers. This bill also allows certain officers and employees of the department to receive payment for any accrued and unused annual leave day in excess of 480 hours, up to a maximum of 80 hours per year. The bill authorizes ADOC to increase correctional officer hiring and retention by offering bonuses or educational incentives, or a combination of both, to correctional officers and trainees. This bill authorizes payment of bonuses for additional training achievements and certain milestones achieved by corrections officers. The bill ends the bonuses after Dec. 31, 2025, though future Legislatures could revisit that based on the performance of the program and the state’s needs and financial health at that time.

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The proposed bonuses include a $1,500 bonus for successful completion of an Alabama Department of Corrections Training Academy class or successful completion of an Alabama Peace Officers’ and Standards Training Commission law enforcement refresher class, a $1,500 bonus for attainment of status as a correctional officer, a $1,875 bonus for attainment of status as a correctional officer senior upon creation of the position by the State Personnel Board and a $2,625 bonus upon the one-year anniversary of the attainment of status as a correctional officer senior. Other correctional officers may receive promotional or retention bonuses on recommendation of the Department of Corrections and approval by the State Personnel Department.

HB468 is cosponsored by State Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville, who co-chairs the joint legislative task force on prisons.

The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee is chaired by State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark.

Clouse said this has “already been budgeted.”

State Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette, made a motion to give the bill a favorable report.

The motion passes without opposition.

HB468 now goes to the full House of Representatives for their consideration.

The state of Alabama has been sued in federal court by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of some of the state’s prisoners. The court found that Alabama’s prisons are terribly understaffed, overcrowded and cited the state for not providing adequate mental health care for its inmates. That case is still pending.

On April 1, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded a lengthy investigation into the Alabama prison system and found that the system is the most violent in the entire country and cited the chronically understaffing as a contributing factor to the brutish conditions that included murder, rape, kidnapping, sex abuse, gangs, drugs and contraband. The DOJ report concludes that the way Alabama treats its prisoners could constitute a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.” The state was given 60 days to present a plan addressing the DOJ’s concerns or the feds could bring litigation against the state.

Many Alabama prisons operate with half the number of guards that they are designed for.  The budget that passed the House has authorized ADOC to hire 500 additional officers in the 2020 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The state presently has 1200 full time correctional officers. The SPLC says the state needs over 3,000 guards.

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