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Staffing shortages stretching corrections officers to their limit

There are over 800 vacancies throughout the 31 prisons in Michigan
COUNTY PRISONS
Posted at 2:27 PM, Feb 02, 2023

MICHIGAN — There are 31 prison facilities in the state of Michigan and right now most of them are experiencing an unprecedented staffing shortage. Workers say this issue has been cultivating for over six years and they’re reaching their breaking point.

"We're going backward, not forwards," Byron Osborn, president of the union representing 5,500 officers, Michigan Corrections Organization, said.

Michigan corrections officers and prison staff say they sometimes feel like they're an unseen and unappreciated part of the criminal justice system.

“These are normal citizens coming in trying to provide what we believe is a very important service to the citizens of Michigan,” Osborn said.

According to a May 2022 Michigan Department of Corrections report to the Legislature, staff oversees approximately 32,000 Michigan prisoners.Osborn has been a corrections officer at the Chippewa Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula for over 20 years. He says the strain of being understaffed is being felt by all.

2021 Michigan Prison Population

“Prisons don't close...We can't just put a closed signup and say, 'hey, we don't have enough people today,'" Osborn adds.

Currently, there are over 800 vacancies at Michigan prisons – most of them corrections officer positions.

"We've fluctuated anywhere from 700 to 1,000 vacancies,” says Osborn.

All those vacancies mean the staff already on-hand are working doubles to fill the gaps - affecting not only their mental health but their families as well."

"People are just physically exhausted, we've got spouses giving ultimatums,” Osborn said.

The Michigan Department Of Corrections (MDOC) understands the seriousness of this issue and has started offering signing bonuses and adding more recruitment events.

“I would certainly say it's critical, especially depending on which prison you're in,” MDOC Spokesperson Chris Gautz said. “In some areas of the state, it's very critical.”

Gautz says Jackson prisons are struggling the most, but the shortages are affecting all state prisons.The biggest contributor he says is retirement.

Michigan Department of Corrections Correctional Facilities Map

“We're seeing so many people retire because 30 years ago, they all were hired in mass because there was a huge prison boom,” explains Gautz. “And now they're all retiring."

But Osborn says, the issue is more about the peel back of retirement packages offered to workers.

“The benefits packages have been eroded by way of the legislature for the most part,” he said.

Osborn says his union members want to see something done at the state level to help current workers and attract more staff including adding more funds to state prison workers for pensions or hybrid pensions and post-retirement healthcare benefits.

“Folks are not going to stay here without those,” Osborn explains.

While this section of the criminal justice system may oftentimes be overlooked, Osborn says the importance of prison staff can not be understated, and it's a job that simply can not be done well under current staffing conditions.

MDOC is now constantly having hiring events to help fill the need:

There’s one Thursday at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

There’s also a Winter Career Fair hosted by the University of Detroit Mercy on February 9 at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

If you can’t make it in person, there’s a Virtual State of Michigan Career Fair on February 15 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Upcoming MDOC recruitment events