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Corrections officers union calling for National Guard to relieve staffing shortages at Mich. prisons

Michigan Legislative Council Legislative Corrections Ombudsman
A row of prison cells

Michigan's corrections officers union says Governor Gretchen Whitmer should call in the National Guard to alleviate a severe staffing shortage at many state prisons.

Michigan Corrections Organization President Byron Osborn said it's an unprecedented request, but the overtime crisis due to unfilled positions is real.

Officers are "not seeing their families, they're not getting enough sleep, they can't even cut their grass, I mean, it's crazy," Osborn said. "This vicious cycle we're in of resignations and inability for the department to recruit enough officers it's just wearing our people out."

Osborn said the unfilled job list has hovered between 900 and 1,000 for a long time, with five facilities (Marquette Branch Prison, Cotton Correctional Facility, Cooper Street Correctional Facility,
Baraga Correctional Facility, and Alger Correctional Facility) over 30% short of necessary staff. Another facility, the Charles E. Egeler Reception and Guidance Center in Jackson, which handles intake and processing for new inmates in the state correctional system, is nearing a 28% job vacancy level, and 27% of the positions at Chippewa Correctional Facility are unfilled, said Osborn.

"It's a pretty demoralizing set of numbers," he added. "We're trying to convey to the governor that no other state employee is living in these working conditions. If her staff were being told, 'you can't go home at 4:00, you're staying until midnight,' I bet you they'd be finding solutions pretty quick."

Osborn said the state isn't able to find enough people to take what are intrinsically dangerous and difficult jobs because the benefits are so poor. Unlike the Michigan State Police, prison corrections officers in the state do not have pensions.

A proposal to add $16 million a year so corrections officers could join the MSP pension system was taken out of the state budget before it passed last week.

In a statement, the Michigan Department of Corrections acknowledged it has faced staffing challenges in some of its communities, requiring staff to work high levels of both voluntary and mandated overtime.

The Department said it has responded to the situation with an increased focus on advertising positions, holding hiring events, improving working environments, and negotiating raises totaling 18% since October 2020.

"The situation facing MDOC staff continues to be challenging, but the solution is not a temporary measure such as bringing in National Guard members who have not been trained to operate in this environment," the department said in a statement.

"The department and other stakeholders need to remain focused on efforts that can stabilize staffing in the long-term, including promoting the benefits of a career in Corrections. These include having an active role in keeping their communities safe, serving in a role that can change lives, and the ability to reach annual maximum pay of $68,500 after just 3 and a half years of service as an Officer, which will become effective on October 1," the statement said.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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