PHOENIX — According to Arizona's financial data, 62% of all the overtime paid out by the state in 2017-18 came from one department, the Department of Corrections. More than $40 million were spent on overtime, more than every other state agency combined.
According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, there are currently 1,211 open correction officer positions at this time, leaving nearly a fifth of all positions in the department unfilled.
Currently, the department is dealing with the fallout from reports of assaults on the officers at Lewis Prison that resulted from locks on cell doors not working properly.
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“There is always going to be fear. You are always going to have fear. If you don’t have fear, something bad is going to happen," said Clinton Roberts, a corrections officer at Lewis Prison. “When I walk in there, it is always a risk. “
The long hours many officers take can provide difficulty and added stress. Roberts said "best-case" scenario, officers are outnumbered by inmates 50 to one.
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“It’s extremely stressful. It changes the officers.” Roberts said.“It’s physically and emotionally draining. It takes a big toll on the family."
The problem with staffing starts with retention. The department is constantly hiring.
A new class of officers graduates about every two weeks. However, it is also losing officers at a faster rate than it's gaining them—often to other law enforcement agencies, according to Officer Roberts.
A new state budget may provide some relief. The current proposal includes a 10% pay raise.
"The Department expects that additional compensation for our officers will have a positive effect on the agency’s ability to hire and, more importantly, retain, correctional officers," The ADC said in an email.
In an email, Governor Doug Ducey's spokesperson said:
"The Department of Corrections is working closely with the Department of Administration on addressing the locking and fire systems.
The Department has identified at least $30M in non-appropriated funding, not vacancy savings, that can be directed to these issues over a multi-year period. ADC is actively working to recruit correctional officers to fill vacancies. The budget agreement invests $40.6 million to increase salaries of correctional officers to help in this effort.
The specific information on vendors, cost, and timeline are still being evaluating by ADC and DOA and will be presented at the JCCR meeting in June."