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Judge orders delayed release of prison staffing numbers

January 2, 2019

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to publicly disclose the number of correctional officers at each Alabama prison, but with a time delay because of security concerns.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that quarterly staffing reports submitted to the court should be unsealed. However, Thompson said the release of prison-specific information would be delayed for five months because of security concerns.

The ruling came in an ongoing lawsuit over mental health care in Alabama prisons. Attorneys for inmates sought to have the reports unsealed. Thompson wrote that the prison system agreed to release the information but wanted a 12-month delay in releasing staffing data for individual prisons because of security concerns.

Thompson wrote that there is some degree of risk in publishing correctional officer numbers for each prison but it “is not significant enough to overcome the strong interest in public disclosure of the information.”

“To hide the details of understaffing is to hinder public oversight of ADOC,” Thompson wrote.

Thompson in 2017 ruled that mental health care in state prison was “horrendously inadequate” and said that understaffing is an overarching issue behind the unconstitutional conditions.

Prior to the 2017 ruling, the state published staffing numbers on the prison system’s website, but officials told the court they stopped because of concerns the information was not accurate.

Thompson wrote that the prison system should file the facility-specific correctional data under seal and then refile the information publicly five months after the last day of the quarter covered by the report.

Prison system officials have acknowledged they need to add correctional staff, and have stepped up recruiting and other efforts.

Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn told The Associated Press last year that estimates filed with the court show the state needs to add between 1,800 and 2,000 officers — almost doubling current staffing levels.

Last year the department authorized a 5 and 10 percent pay increase for officers at minimum- and maximum-security prisons. The raise will boost the starting salary for entry-level correctional officers from $28,516 to $31,368 at maximum-security prisons and $29,942 at medium-security facilities.

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