NEW MEXICO DEPT.OF CORRECTIONS
Due to the increased vacancies, the department is now faced with limited staffing options for its correctional officer positions. This forces mandatory overtime and places the safety and security of the facility, the integrity of our officer’s families, as well as public safety at risk. Mandatory overtime has led to greater staff frustration, anger, and resentment, resulting in low morale, higher unauthorized incidents and civil liability, and ultimately an increase in terminations and resignations which aggravate the department’s existing rate of staffing vacancies.
Probation / Parole Officers vs. Caseloads:
The state’s community supervision functions, the Probation and Parole Division is currently operating at a vacancy rate of 20%. On the other hand, the probation/parole population has risen by 521 offenders over the last quarter, resulting in a total population of 17,317 offenders. Consequently, the average STANDARD case load is currently 110 per officer, which is up seven over the last quarter. If the division was fully staffed the average case load would be a much more manageable 88, closer to nationally recommended supervision caseloads.
The Corrections journey
The journeys of correctional and probation/parole officers are unique to most professions. Unlike most other professions, these folks begin on their first day of the basic training academy. Following 10 weeks of training, they are equipped (to a tune of approximately 7K) and prepared to enter our workforce. At graduation, enthusiasm, motivation, and idealism are the emotions of the day. The positive emotions that carried them through the demands of our academy tend to carry them through a physically and mentally challenging first few months as they confront some of the most negative and challenging circumstances a man or woman could choose!
o “I’m going to do a little as possible, do my time, and then get the hell out of here the day that I’m eligible for retirement” or;
o “I’m out of here!”
And therein lies the true problem for New Mexico. The New Mexico Corrections Department, an important compliment for the state’s criminal justice system and public safety, loses almost all of its graduating rookies within the first 3 years of their service to our state. The department’s inability to compete within the job market has left the organization at critically low levels of staffing that has resulted in dangerous circumstances and unsustainable operations. More often, when faced with poor service outcomes, government remains more inclined to look to new systems, structures, processes, or technology to solve its problems when more often our problems are human. We hope you’ll agree that they are as important an asset for investment as all others.
The ability to focus directly on agencies such as the New Mexico Corrections Department, who are burdened with hard to fill, hard to retain public safety positions, with a pay plan that makes the department both locally and regionally competitive with the industry standards could prove significantly beneficial to the department both now and into the foreseeable future. Accordingly, the department is working with the State Personnel Office to develop a targeted pay band system for corrections and probation and parole officers. If approved and funded, the new pay bands will bring officers rate of pay up. SPO and NMCD researched starting pay for officers in other states and at local county jails. The Metro Detention Center in Bernalillo County, with a starting pay of $17.45 an hour, was evaluated as a comparative for the analysis for the proposed pay band for NMCD correction officers. Currently, correctional officers have the lowest pay in the country.