As Alabama grapples with a major shortage of correctional workers, more than 60 percent of the required staff positions at the overcrowded, violence-plagued prison which houses the state's death chamber are currently unfilled.
The Montgomery Advertiser reported Tuesday that maximum-security Holman prison, where authorities are investigating a string of assaults and one homicide this month, currently employs 72 security staff members of the 195 it needs to cover all its shifts.
Holman's 37 percent staffing level falls well below the state average, which is about 48 percent of needed staff. Officials have said the state needs to add between 1,800 and 2,000 officers -- almost double current staffing levels.
At Holman, located near Atmore in rural southwest Alabama and home to the state's largest death row and also its lethal injection apparatus, understaffing issues are made worse by inmate overcrowding. Holman was originally designed to hold about 581 men but is currently housing 951 inmates, an occupancy rate of about 164 percent.
The average occupancy rate for Alabama's maximum security prisons was about 141 percent in September, the most recent available data provided by the department.
Prison system spokesman Bob Horton says staffing shortages are generally more severe at rural facilities, and attrition is high because employees have to work overtime. Horton also says Alabama's older prisons like Holman require more employees than a new facility would.
"When built, Alabama prisons were not equipped with the security technology that is available today in modern prison systems," Horton says. "This requires more security staff than would be needed if the prisons were better designed and equipped with the needed technology and security features."
Alabama prison officials have transferred more than 30 inmates from Holman after one man was killed and at least six others injured in a series of assaults earlier this month.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson is currently considering whether to hold the state in contempt for failing to make adequate improvements to its prisons. Thompson previously ruled that mental health care in the state's prisons was "horrendously inadequate", and wrote that low staffing and overcrowding are "overarching issues" for the department.
Horton says the state has stepped up recruitment and is offering higher pay for workers in major prisons.