State gains 62 prison officers amid shortage

 04/04/03, Birmingham News

News staff writer

SELMA Prison Commissioner Donal Campbell spells relief "c-a-d-e-t-s." 

  With the state prison system 425 officers short from military call-ups and other staff losses, Campbell handed diplomas Thursday to 62 new corrections officers who had completed a 12-week training course at the corrections academy. They will be on the job next week. 

"I know you are entering one of the most difficult times in the Alabama Department of Corrections," Campbell told the new officers during graduation ceremonies for the academy. "You are joining some of the most dedicated employees I have seen in 35 years in government." 

Twelve weeks ago, 104 cadets began the training. Only 62 successfully completed the course, which Campbell called one of the longest and most intense in the nation. Four more classes are expected to complete the academy training this year. 

Campbell, who became the Riley administration's prison commissioner in January after heading Tennessee prisons for eight years, said he had seen the prison system in that state move from being one of the nation's worst to becoming nationally accredited and one of the nation's best. 

"We can do the same thing here," Campbell said. "That's what I ask you to do ... to make that commitment. I look forward to working with you." 

Terry L. Johnson of Madison, president of the cadet class, said he was an M1 Abrams tank commander in the Army before retiring recently at the end of a 21-year military career and signing up for prison officer training. 

"I believe that if we're going to fix the problem, we've all got to put our hands into it," Johnson said in an interview. "I made a decision to join the Alabama Corrections Department because I think I can be a part of this, can help benefit and do the things that need to be done in our corrections system." 

Alabama prisons were 208 officers below authorized levels when military activations for the war in Iraq took out 217 officers, leaving a gap of 425 officers in the system's nearly 2,700-officer security staff. Another 255 officers are in the military and eventually could be called up, prison information officer Brian Corbett said. 

Campbell said the department has been able to handle the staff shortages through increased use of overtime.

Campbell said he is pleased that the governor and the Legislature were able to get a $3.7 million supplemental appropriation for the prisons approved on Tuesday. 

"The governor made a commitment to help make the resources available to this department. The Legislature is working with the governor on making those resources available," he said. "That is a first step, a very positive step. But there are many more steps to be taken."