State lawmakers allocated $2 million to the Department of Corrections on Thursday to help cover the costs of overtime pay for prison guards for the remainder of the fiscal year.
The DOC is spending millions of dollars each month in overtime to maintain security as it struggles to fill vacant positions, and the cost is projected rise, according to state budget documents prepared for the Joint Budget Committee.
A December investigation by Fox 31 found the vacancies represent some of the largest vacancies for this job the state has ever seen. It’s also creating dangerous working conditions in the state’s prisons, according to the report.
Rick Raemisch, the former executive director for the Colorado Department of Corrections, told the Joint Budget Committee earlier this month that correctional officers have the most dangerous job in state government.
“Every minute of their working day they are in harm’s way,” Raemisch said. He added, ”Not only are they with convicted felons, their locked in. They can’t run.”
Meanwhile, assaults on inmates and correctional officers are increasing, according to the department. In 2018, there were five assaults on staff resulting in “serious injury,” according to the department.
Correctional officers’ use of force has also increased, jumping nearly 60 percent since 2014, according to the department.
The DOC says the turnover rate for entry-level correctional officers is roughly 26 percent annually.
A key driver, officials say, is that correctional officers are taking different jobs elsewhere. Officials said these guards are paid less than most police officers.
At the same time, the state’s prison population has reached 20,200, a three-year high.
“Our inmate population is going up and our staffing’s going down,” Raemisch told the committee.
The state’s new prison chief, Dean Williams, was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday. In addition to high staff turnover, Williams will inherit a crowded prison system.
There are fewer than 100 state prison beds open in the state, not including community corrections beds or private prison beds.
Gov. Jared Polis is considering ways to reduce the prison population before his administration releases a budget for the Department of Corrections by Jan. 31.
Polis has not yet indicated whether he wants to open Centennial South Correctional Facility, a prison in Cañon City built for solitary confinement but closed in 2012 after the state stopped holding prisoners in long-term isolation. The prison would cost about $28 million to staff and retool. The latest budget for the Department of Corrections was about $900 million.