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Corrections department returns to Senate Oversight Committee

an empty bed with coldwater's lakeland correctional facility
John McGuire for Michigan Radio

Overworked employees, mental health, and retention issues all came up during Tuesday’s state Senate Oversight Committee hearing with the Michigan Department of Corrections.

It was a follow-up to one held three weeks ago where lawmakers heard testimony that the department had around 770 vacancies to fill.

Lawmakers again pressed the department about its hiring efforts.

Kyle Kaminski is the department’s legislative liaison. He said the agency has hired thousands of correction officers over the last couple years.

“It is not simply a matter of us failing to recruit. We have recruited extremely aggressively. We’ve recruited extremely aggressively in a number of communities that have diminishing labor forces, which is a challenge in and of itself, and we’re going to continue with that,” Kaminski said.

He said some retention ideas include modernizing corrections facilities and improving the department’s promotion structure.

Meanwhile, committee chair Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) expressed concerns that the DOC’s presentation earlier this month reported fewer serious assaults in prisons than he said he’s been hearing about.

“I don’t have all the data right at my fingertips but there seems to be a lot of contention that that number is not accurate coming from facilities and personnel that I talk to,” McBroom said.

MDOC Director Heidi Washington said that might come down to errors in the reporting process.

“Each facility collects that data and reports that data, and sometimes, things might be coded improperly, and once all the data comes up to Lansing, we have to go through the data to make sure that what the incident is actually meets the definition and then we produce a report,” she said.

Washington said the department is in the process of creating a fuller report.

The Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility also came up at the hearing. That’s where a COVID-19 outbreak and staffing shortages have led to concerns.

Kaminski said the facility is gradually restarting its programming.

Tuesday's hearing was the first of multiple planned follow-up meetings to look at issues with staffing and other correctional facilities needs.

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