Arizona has had a shortage of corrections officers for a long time, but a recent report highlights that problem. In the 2017-18 budget year, the state paid $40 million in overtime, according to an analysis by The Arizona Republic. That clearly is not a good thing for the state or the workers who have to put in so many hours, but hopefully pay increases approved this year by the Legislature will help.
The analysis showed that 91% of corrections officers worked some overtime. Some worked a very large amount, meaning $37,000 to $59,000 in extra pay. The downside of that, besides the cost to taxpayers, is that people are away from their families too much and likely are very tired at work.
The study found a high employee vacancy rate at one of the prisons in Florence, Eyman Complex, at 37%. Florence, a traditional home for prisons where many residents have been receptive or accustomed to having them, has had shortages of employees for a long time. However, the town has much more available housing in the area than it used to, and that should help with recruitment.
Some state officials have said that the 10% raise approved by the Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey this year will not be enough to turn the tide. Another 5% is expected next year. But it certainly should help. New corrections officers make a little over $36,000 a year. The state spends more than $13,000 to recruit and train a new officer, and many move on to other more lucrative jobs in law enforcement.
Meanwhile, the state has been facing an unfunded liability for corrections retirement. No wonder that Arizona and other states rely on private prisons to handle some of the load.
Such news causes advocates to call for releasing more criminals. Prison reform has become a major cause, and it deserves consideration, but many offenders already do not go to prison. The worst ones need to be locked up.
The report shows the state’s challenges but also points to its good efforts in dealing with them.