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Staff Shortages, Inmate Anger Plague U.S. Prisons

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A nationwide worker shortage has prisons scrambling to maintain their ranks of corrections officers even as more and more are deciding they might be better off elsewhere, reports David Montgomery for Pew Stateline.

In Texas, as of February, 8,043 of the 24,020 jobs inside the correctional system were vacant, an all-time high, while Florida’s 24 percent vacancy rate has forced the temporary closure of some housing units and the calling in of the National Guard to help fill the void.

A recent pay raise in Texas helped lower their number to just under 7,000 and Florida has followed suit by raising starting salaries to $41,600 and adding a $1,000 hiring bonus for high-vacancy units.

Around the country, to attract more officers, states are raising salaries, offering hiring bonuses, reducing the minimum age to 18 and ratcheting up recruiting efforts with advertisements on billboards and social media.

Meanwhile, Evan Mealins at the Montgomery Advertiser writes that protesters gathered outside the Alabama Department of Corrections’ central office in Montgomery, denouncing what they call “inhumane treatment” of Alabama’s nearly 20,000 incarcerated people.

At the same time, all of Alabama’s major prisons began a labor strike, with those inside saying that the strike will continue until the demands, which include a repeal of the state’s habitual offender law and additional oversight of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, are met.

Alabama prisons rely on cheap or unpaid inmate labor to produce a variety of goods.

In response to the strike, nearly all prisons have denied recreation time, education and substance abuse classes, meals and movement around the prisons.

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