The Arizona Department of Corrections had a plan to fill the number of open correctional officer jobs by two-thirds this fiscal year. The plan is not off to a good start.
The intention was to hire an average of 203 new officers per quarter. That pace would allow 812 of the 1,290 vacant positions to be filled by June 2020. Yet, the department has seen an average decrease of 74 officers in the first eight weeks of the fiscal year, which began July 1.
The department actually set their hiring goal at 453 due to an expectation that about 173 officers would leave their jobs each quarter; which is how they landed at the 203 number.
According to documents, ADOC hired 188 new officers between July 1 and Aug. 26, while 192 left the agency, normally to take other jobs. Another 70 correctional officers were promoted. There were also 18 officers who left the department before even completing their training.
The highest vacancies are at Eyman Prison (36.4%) and Florence Prison (32%). Both of these prisons are in the town of Florence. Budget analysts claim these prisons “face significant competition for staff with private, county, and federal facilities in the area.”
These open positions are being covered by current officers working overtime. According to The Arizona Republic, last year, more than 90% of correctional officers worked overtime and ADOC spent $40 million on overtime pay.
The agency raised the cap on allowed overtime from 24 hours to 32 hours per week in May. 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.
The main reason the department has a hard time keeping officers and hiring them is due to poor pay. In exit interviews conducted between Jan. 1 and Aug. 21, 41% claimed poor pay was their reason for moving on.
The budget approved earlier this year went into effect in July. It includes a 10% pay increase for all correctional officers, with base pay increasing from $39,300 to $43,200.
Low pay also causes low morale in correctional officers. Due to this, the department is continuing to struggle to find new correctional officers.