MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Department of Corrections is making plans to contract with outside security staff to work within state prisons, ADOC Commissioner John Hamm said Wednesday during a budget request presentation to state lawmakers.
The department has a shortage of about 688 security staff members and contracting outside help for jobs that don’t require contact with prisoners would free up more correctional staff for inmate supervision. It’s one of several efforts to increase and retain prison staff, Hamm said.
Alabama’s prison system is under a years-long federal court order to increase staffing at crowded and dangerous prisons, but Hamm told lawmakers that they’ve lost ground in the last two years and only recently stopped losing more employees than they were hiring, despite recent increases in pay.
“Any suggestions you might have, we’re all ears,” Hamm told lawmakers. “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 is requesting $726 million in state General Fund support in fiscal 2024, and increase from $659.4 million in state funding this year.
Hamm told a panel of lawmakers on Wednesday some of those increases are court-ordered, including $37 million in increased medical care and $9.5 million in Americans with Disabilities Act-related improvements at several existing facilities.
Some other increases are related to ongoing litigation and mitigation, Hamm said, including $5 million in attorney fees and $6 million in additional security equipment and fees.
Sen. Greg Albritton, who chairs the Senate General Fund budget committee, pressed Hamm on how increased funding would help mitigate the system’s issues?
“We’ve got fairly stable (numbers of inmates), our number of facilities have declined, our personnel have declined, yet our costs continue to increase. Is there an endgame to this?” Albritton asked.
“… We’ve got to gain the control back on what we’re doing here.”
Hamm said that. while the Legislature has recently made prisons a focus, for “years and years” it was not a priority.
“But it hasn’t made a difference, a significant difference, in employee retention and hiring,” Albritton said.
Correct, Hamm replied.
“I am open to any suggestions on anyone wanting to come work for the department of corrections,” he said.
Hamm, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Hal Taylor and Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles Director Cam Ward, made their fiscal 2024 budget pitches to a panel of lawmakers at the State House Wednesday morning. All three cited inflation and rising costs as reasons behind their request increases.
Taylor and ALEA are asking for a $31.2 million increase in 2024. About $7 million of that is for personnel cost increases; nearly $2 million is to cover gas price increases.
Ward showed lawmakers data that said his department’s fuel cost for about 470 vehicles doubled between 2020 and 2022.
Ward is asking for $96.1 million in General Fund funding in 2024 for Pardons and Paroles, up from about $95.2 million this year.
“The bulk of our costs are on the personnel side,” he said.
Food costs have gone up 11%, Hamm said.
“When you’re talking about feeding 20,000 people, that’s a significant amount of money,” he said.
Hamm on Wednesday also gave lawmakers an update on work at two 4,000-bed prisons planned for Elmore and Escambia counties. Site work has begun at the Elmore facility.
He also defended the department’s recent decision to contract with a health care provider for $1 billion.