Friday, January 22, 2016

Staffing Shortages


The 2016 Legislative Session has arrived. This is one in a series of posts from the staff of the New Mexico Corrections Department. We intend to send a daily update to all our legislators with key points, facts, figures, personal stories describing life here at NMCD.

what are the current officer vacancy rates at nmcd?

Roswell Correctional Center:                          49%

Western NM Correctional Facility:                 40%

Springer Correctional Center:                        48%

Central NM Correctional Facility:                   26%

Penitentiary of New Mexico:                         22%

Southern NM Correctional Facility:                 11%

Probation and Parole:                                   20%


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 officers 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 departments existing rate of staffing vacancies.

Additionally, when correctional officer staffing remains consistently minimal, normal activities such as contraband searches, training, offender programming, and other necessary activities such as inmate recreation and visitation designed to manage inmate conduct can't be conducted. The daily effectiveness of NMCDs operations is dependent upon precise and repeated attention to detail when line officers carry out their responsibilities, particularly those security posts and rounds carried out within our states prisons, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Fatigue and low staff morale resulting from significant amounts and mandatory overtime may cause correctional officers who are on duty to not be at their best performance. Working mandatory overtime can cause correctional officers to experience sleep deprivation. Fatigue from long shifts can reduce attention to detail and affect critical thinking and performance. The fatigue and low morale the department is currently experiencing, both in the facilities and the probation/parole regions, is a direct result of the inability to retain staff, continual mandatory overtime, and lack of other resources over a sustained period of time, resulting in a domino effect for New Mexico’s corrections operations.

 Probation / Parole Officers vs. Caseloads:

The states 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!

But anyone exposed to the corrections experience, either as an officer or someone who simply loves them, will tell you that the journey eventually produces changes in that person. Based upon New Mexico’s dangerously critical staffing levels, the amount of work they are required to perform, within the first 36 months of service, the job becomes more than a job. The job (not their spouses and children) become the central defining aspect of their lives. And at the point these changes are taking place, those loved ones find themselves pushed aside. Marriages are strained and often break. Attitudes are strained and often break.  Children are alienated from the parental influence they deserve. Life development, plans, hobbies, and vacations are put on hold because theres no time for them. Very soon, these once idealistic young men and women become emotionally distant, hardened, and physically absent from the lives of those sharing their journey on the home front. They become far less effective in both their workspaces and homes.  At some point, many of these men and women are forced to form 1 of 2 conclusions:

 o   “Im going to do a little as possible, do my time, and then get the hell out of here the day that Im eligible for retirement” or;

o   “Im 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 youll agree that they are as important an asset for investment as all others.

 The solution?

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.

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