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Corrections Dept. failing to fill vacant prison guard jobs

By: - September 19, 2019 3:38 pm

Tactical Support Unit officers at ASPC-Florence salute the flag during a 9/11 ceremony on Sept. 11, 2018. Photo via Facebook

The Arizona Department of Corrections is not off to a good start on its plan to slash the number of open correctional officer jobs by two-thirds this fiscal year.

To do so, the agency has proposed hiring a net 203 correctional officers per quarter. Sticking to that pace would allow ADOC to fill 812 of the 1,290 vacant positions by June 2020.

But the agency told the Joint Legislative Budget Committee that its first quarter efforts haven’t been successful: ADOC has seen a net decrease of 74 officers in the first eight weeks of the fiscal year, which began July 1.

ADOC actually set its hiring goal at 453 new hires per quarter to account for an anticipated 173 officers leaving the agency each quarter, making its goal 203 net hires per quarter.

According to documents prepared in advance of the legislative committee’s Sept. 25 meeting, ADOC hired 188 new officers between July 1 and Aug. 26, while 192 left the agency, usually to take other jobs. Another 70 correctional officers were promoted. There were also 18 officers who left the department before completing their training. 

The highest vacancy rates are at Eyman and Florence prisons, where 36.4% and 32% of correctional officer jobs are open, respectively.

Budget analysts at JLBC noted that those two prisons, both of which are in the town of Florence, “face significant competition for staff with private, county, and federal facilities in the area.”

The vacant positions are currently being covered through overtime. Last year, more than 90% of correctional officers worked overtime and ADOC spent $40 million on overtime pay, The Arizona Republic reported this month. 

In May, the agency raised the cap on allowed overtime from 24 hours to 32 hours per week. As a result, there was a roughly 30% increase in the average overtime worked per employee. Between July 1 and Aug. 26, correctional officers worked a total of 317,164 overtime hours, legislative analysts reported.

Poor pay is at the root of ADOC’s inability to attract and retain correctional officers. In exit interviews conducted between Jan. 1 and Aug. 21, 41% of officers leaving the agency said salary was the primary reason. 

The budget approved earlier this year, which went into effect in July, includes a 10% pay increase for all correctional officers, with base pay increasing from $39,300 to $43,200.

And a report commissioned this year by Gov. Doug Ducey into broken locks at Lewis Prison in Buckeye concluded that low pay for correctional officers was a core component of poor morale among prison workers.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.