Problems grow at Arizona prison as positions remain unfilled

Posted: Updated:
(Source: Arizona Department of Corrections) (Source: Arizona Department of Corrections)
FLORENCE, AZ (AP) -

An Arizona prison facility tangled in litigation is in need of more corrections officers.

The officer vacancy rate at the Eyman Complex in Florence has grown by almost 15 percent since March 2014, according to reports from the state Department of Corrections.

That's the highest vacancy rate among all 15 prison facilities across the state, the Casa Grande Dispatch reported. There were 287 unfilled corrections officers positions at the Eyman Complex as of Wednesday,

The facility has traditionally had trouble recruiting new hires and retaining employees in the rural area, said Andrew Wilder, the department's director of communication, in an email. The department is also seeing an uptick in the number of employees retiring.

A lawsuit filed against the department last year says that the staff shortage has led to a number of physical assaults on employees. The plaintiffs accuse the department of creating "dangerous conditions" caused by improper staffing levels at several facilities.

One plaintiff said that he was beaten by an inmate who had a history of being violent toward officers. Another said that an inmate threw a sack full of sharp rocks at his face.

Another plaintiff said that he has been asked to work overtime on multiple occasions because there were not enough officers scheduled for the next shift. Sometimes, only two officers are assigned to monitor 120 inmates, the plaintiff said.

Mandatory overtime can lead to lower morale and retention rates among officers, said Robert Blackmer, the Arizona Correctional Peace Officer Association's public relations officer. It is also costing the department about $40 million a year, according to a previous Arizona Republic report.

Special bonuses and stipends are being offered to new hires in hopes of filling the positions quickly, Wilder said.

Association members would also like to see salaries increase. State Rep. T.J. Shope, who district covers Florence, said he would support the raise, but he said he was not heard from anyone from the department on the matter.

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