By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The state of Alabama told a federal judge that it is optimistic that it can adequately staff state prisons by a 2022 deadline despite slow progress in hiring.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson had asked the state to explain how it planned to meet the court order to add about 2,000 officers in the next two years.
Thompson said the state had only added about 100 officers over the last nine months and had a net loss in supervisors.
In a Friday court filing, the prison system said hiring has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but it has developed a pay structure, recruitment campaign and other infrastructure to hire and retain staff and supervisors.
“Its efforts are bearing fruit,” wrote William R. Lunsford, an attorney representing the Alabama Department of Corrections.
“The state remains optimistic that its employment-related processes will enable ADOC to achieve adequate correctional staffing levels by February 20, 2022.”
Thompson in 2017 ruled that mental health care in state prisons was “horrendously inadequate” and said that understaffing is an overarching issue behind the unconstitutional conditions.
Thompson ordered Alabama to comply with the findings of a staffing report.
The state argued Friday that the staffing report suggests optimal staffing numbers and doesn’t require an increased headcount of 2,000 officers but “full-time equivalents” that can be reached by overtime and part-time positions.
It also said it is “cautiously optimistic” that ADOC can capitalize on current employment-related and economic circumstances, including the more than 550,000 unemployment claims filed since March.
The state also said COVID-19 and the response to it has presented recruiting challenges.
“While unemployment sharply rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama unemployment claimants receive generous benefits ($600 per week from the CARES Act of 2020 on top of applicable state benefits). It appears these generous benefits have kept Alabama’s unemployed workforce from seeking new employment, opting to wait until those unemployment benefits run out to seek new employment.”
Lawyers representing inmates in the lawsuit are to file a response by Friday.