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Department of Corrections struggling to comply with court order to increase staffing

Commissioner John Hamm told lawmakers he’s open to suggestions and that he didn’t know how to meet the court order.

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For years, the Alabama Department of Corrections has been under a federal lawsuit to increase correctional staff, but recent court filings show the system is at an all-time low.

Commissioner John Hamm discussed the staffing challenge in a budget request to the Alabama Legislature on Wednesday.

“I am open to any suggestions on anyone wanting to come work for the department of corrections,” Hamm told the committee.

One member of the committee suggested training inmates so that once they are released, they can become correctional officers themselves.

“Well, the Alabama Peace Officers Standard Training Commission has a little thing you can’t be a convicted felon and hold a post,” Hamm said.

Hamm said the department has tried different ways to retain the staff it has and has currently a downward trend in staffing numbers.

“First you have to stop digging the hole,” Hamm said. “We have to have employees stay rather than leave.”

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One attempt to alleviate the staffing burden is to coordinate with another state agency to provide perimeter security and contracting out with private security for cubicle, non contact positions to stretch correctional officers less thin.

As of February 13, there were 688 vacancies in security staff, as well as 264 support staff vacancies and 124 administrative staff vacancies.

“One of our court orders says we will hire X number of security staff, (but) I don’t know how we’re going to make them come to work,” Hamm said. 

ADOC is requesting a $66 million increase in the general fund budget, some of which Hamm said is court-ordered, including $37 million in increased medical care and $9.5 million in Americans with Disabilities Act-related improvements.

“We’ve got fairly stable (numbers of inmates), our number of facilities have declined, our personnel have declined, yet our costs continue to increase,” said Sen. Gerald Albritton, chair of the Senate general fund committee. “Is there an endgame to this?”

Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, pressed Hamm about the controversial contract with YesCare to provide health care for the prisons.

“Everything is a little bit deeper than what’s on the surface and in an article you read,” Hamm said. “If we had chosen the other vendor that was recommended, they were a very new company as well … They didn’t really have a track record. So if I would’ve chosen them we would have been criticized as well by we didn’t choose one of the bigger more established companies.”

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Hamm said he is aware of the lawsuits and all of the criticisms, but said he had to look at the “totality of the situation.”

YesCare split off from parent company Corizon in a complex legal maneuver, leaving behind a company filing for bankruptcy that left other states holding the bag for expenses.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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