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Governor to seek increase in pay for prison officers

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Gov. Bob Riley and Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen plan to ask the Alabama Legislature to give a 10 percent pay raise to corrections officers.

Riley said he believes that higher pay would make it easier for the department to recruit and retain quality corrections officers, the Press-Register reported Thursday.

Tara Hutchison, press secretary for Riley, said the increase is not intended to raise the pay for Alabama officers to the level of officers in other states, but to make them competitive with other law enforcement agencies in Alabama.

"We want to make it more competitive for corrections officers to come on board and stay there," Hutchison said.

Allen estimated that the 10 percent raises would cost $11 million to $12 million a year.

The Department of Corrections has been advertising on state radio stations in recent weeks for people interested in working as corrections officers.

Riley signed into law two cost of living pay increases for all state employees during his first four years in office, and an extra 10 percent increase for state troopers.

Brian Corbett, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections, said there is a disparity between the pay of state corrections officers and others in law enforcement. The starting salary for a corrections officer is $26,620. With the proposed raise, the new starting salary would be $29,282.

State troopers, with their recent 10 percent boost, receive a starting salary of $33,223.

A concern beyond the starting pay is that of compensation for advanced positions. A major in the Alabama Department of Public Safety can top out at $98,395 a year. The maximum for a corrections warden III, which requires a master's degree, is $84,693.

Corbett said the raise proposed by Riley and Allen would go to personnel of every rank, from officer to warden.

The department is recruiting officers to work in a prison system that is operating at about twice its intended capacity. As of September, the corrections department had 2,686 people working in security positions at state facilities and 27,687 inmates.

Plan 2010 — which is Riley's blueprint for his second term — states that prisons are operating at almost 200 percent capacity and, in some facilities, one officer supervises a dormitory with 250 to 300 inmates.

Allen said that having enough corrections officers is a safety concern, but he said the department has been using voluntary and mandatory overtime to get by.

"We have been lucky in that we have not had any major incidents," Allen said. "It is a very serious problem for the department."

The corrections department graduated 44 new officers this month, but those numbers will not be enough to fill the 450 vacancies, especially with high turnover.

"We're still a long way from where we want to be," Corbett said. "However, we are making some significant progress."

In addition to the radio ads, the corrections department is also using a variety of job listings and marketing tools such as Web sites, television, fliers, pamphlets and billboards to recruit officers.

"We're creating a lot of awareness about the fact we have good paying, excellent benefit state jobs for those tough enough to be a corrections officer," Corbett said. "We're beating the bushes and making folks aware that we have good jobs available. Awareness is the key. That comes through recruiting."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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