Arizona Department of Corrections is experiencing a mass exodus of employees. Many have left to join the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Others have been forced to retire in the wake of recent scandals and exposed corruption. Still more refuse to work for an administration that treats it’s employees as harshly as the inmates they house. But whatever the reason for the departure, there are more leaving than entering. This staffing shortage is causing serious safety concerns for Perryvill’s inmate population.

This last week an officer expressed concern that only one guard was on duty to cover three different medium custody yards during the graveyard shift. Each yard houses 192 women; that’s a total of 576 inmates to one single officer. Each yard is separated by distance, fencing, and locked gates. The total distance from the first yard to the last is a quarter-mile so most of the time that officer was not even within shouting distance for at least 2/3 of the population.

Yes, the majority of the inmates are asleep during this time and all but the night work crews are locked down, but emergencies still arise … heart attacks, asthma attacks, suicide, seizures, falls, and fights happen at all hours, including the night. When these situations occur the inmate has no way of notifying staff except to wait for someone to walk by. There is no emergency call button, no magic signal to call for help. The irony and horror are that if the guard does happen upon an emergency that takes time to deal with and the other yards and women are left unattended.

As the shortage of officers increase the stress to the remaining and any newly hired guards rise and can cause harm to the employee. It also causes outrageous overtime costs to ADC.

A couple of obvious remedies for this problem, ould be to increase officer wages to entice more staff to stay on, but that would put more of a burden on the State and Arizona taxpayers. The other solution would be to release those inmates that have shown positive change and responsible behavior through their employment, positive behavior records, and actively seeking volunteer programming. Reducing the inmate population would allow the current ADC staff to be less overwhelmed, the inmate population to be safer, and the newly released inmates would be paying taxes, parole fees, and contributing to their communities.

There is no one solution to this problem. However, it is definitely one that needs to be addressed immediately as it affects the safety and well being of human lives.