Lawmakers want more info on correctional officer departures




    Photo by Matthew Hendley | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

    A legislative panel wants the Arizona Department of Corrections to provide more detailed information on why its correctional officers are leaving the agency and where they’re going.

    The department is in the midst of a push to reduce its vacancy and attrition rates, which it primarily attributes to low pay. Lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey recently approved a 10-percent pay raise for correctional officers, but so far that hasn’t done much to alleviate the problem

    The Joint Legislative Budget Committee on Wednesday voted to require that the Department of Corrections compile more data that could help explain why the problem is so bad.

    Specifically, the department’s quarterly reports to the committee must include summaries of responses from exit interviews with departing corrections officers on why they say they’re leaving and where they’re going. 

    The committee also wants quarterly reports on the average salary for correctional officers, including overtime pay. And it wants the department to report salary information for private prisons, federal prisons, law enforcement agencies and other competitors that lure away its correctional officers, including starting salaries, whether they’ve gotten pay raises in the previous year and the number of vacant positions for those other agencies.

    The department reported to the committee that 41 percent of departing correctional officers cited low pay as their top reason for leaving in exit interviews from January to August. Since the pay raise went into effect on July 1, 65 percent still said salary was their biggest concern, suggesting that the increase wasn’t enough.

    “We are still underfunding our corrections officers at this point,” said Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, who chairs the committee.

    As of Aug. 26, the department’s vacancy rate was 19.4 percent, with 5,158 correctional officer positions filled and 1,290, with another 208 in training. The department plans to fill 203 vacancies per quarter, with a goal of 812 new officers added by the end of June 2020.

    But since the pay raise went into effect, the department has lost a net total of 74 correctional officers.

    “We’re almost at the end of the first quarter and we’re negative 74 when we need to be positive 203,” said Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson.

    In May, the department raised its weekly cap on overtime hours from 24 to 32, which led to an increase of about 30 percent in the average number of overtime hours worked by correctional officers. Legislative budget analyst Geoff Paulson explained at Wednesday’s hearing that total overtime pay within the department jumped from nearly $45 million in the fiscal year 2017 to about $67 million last fiscal year.

    Joe Profiri, the department’s acting director – longtime director Charles Ryan retired this month, and a search is underway for his successor – told the committee that there is some good news when it comes to staffing levels. He said the department was recruiting an average of 18 new correctional officers per week prior to the pay raise, but that number climbed to 22 per week since July 1.

    “We’re starting to make some inroads,” Profiri said. “We’re doing things in the recruitment to get people in the front door and on board to the Department of Corrections.”

    In addition to the pay raise, Profiri said the department was aided by recent legislation that lowered the minimum age for correctional officers from 21 to 18 years. In the two most recent classes of recruits, Profiri said 22 percent were 18-20 years old. 

    Jeremy Duda
    Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”

    6 COMMENTS

    1. DO you really think they are going to write the truth on their exit interview ? The need for so many guards would be much less if low level offenders were on probation working . ANd plea bargains stopped. ANd allowing 90% occupancy rates !

    2. ADOC need to pay correctional officer as law enforcement does theirs. Everyone of those departures left because of the pay issue. Corrections can’t compete and to make it worse they are rotating staff to other units and shifts. If more pay is offered at another job they don’t mind rotating shifts because they pay differential pay. Corrections need to look at how they used to retain staff 10 years ago. The right supervisors, the keeping up with the cost of living and no rotations.

    3. Former CO

      It’s all about how you are treated. The upper brASSholes constantly find reasons to put you under investigation. Cameras were installed to watch staff, not inmates. They treat the inmates waaayyyy better than staff. Then there’s no seniority. They rotate you units with any shift or day off. Myself with 13 years in got rotated and lost my weekends off. People with two years in had weekends off and there I was with Tuesday and Wednesday off. Then there is the pay issue. They raise our pay then in turn raise our health benefits. We never get caught up with the cost of living. I left with a better paying job, less stress, and I feel so much better health wise. No amount of money could ever get me to return to that hell hole!

    4. I agree with Heather, staff does not feel appreciated and rather go somewhere else. Pay is a factor but in many cases it is not the primary one. The perception that you have to belong to the “in” group to be treated fairly is very strong…. And sadly, many times it is true.

    5. The retirement needs to be addressed as well. A new officer has to work 25 years and cannot collect until they are in their mid fifties. As a cadet, they have to chose how much to be placed into a 401 and can never change it. Once that is gone, no more retirement and then what? CORP has it’s problems but was in place prior is much better than the 401 plan.
      Why would someone work that long with a poor retirement system? They wont and they dont.

    6. Still working…..the conditions here are getting really bad. The moral of the staff is horrible. The remaining staff work double shifts just to keep their heads above water, burning out fast. New staff coming in and stay for a few months then leave for better paying jobs like Kohls or home depot, Pathetic huh? The Departments better days are behind us now. The cronyism and favoritism is off the charts and is openly exercised at all levels.

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