Upper Peninsula prisons dealing with staff shortages

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC)- Prisons across the nation are facing serious shortages of correctional officers and that issue is being felt right here in the Upper Peninsula.

The understaffing of prison workers is a problem at every one of the six U.P. prisons, as well as throughout the state of Michigan.

"On average our facilities are anywhere from 30 to 40 officers short, which results in daily, mandatory shifts of overtime,” said Byron Osborn, President of the Michigan State Corrections Officers Union.

Michigan currently has 560 officer vacancies statewide and there are 145 officer vacancies across the Upper Peninsula, according to Chris Gautz, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Working in a correctional facility is already a stressful job to begin with, then adding the constant mandated overtime, it disrupts the officers’ daily lives.

"It's an unusual environment, it's generally negative to begin with and it's very stressful for our officers knowing that I'm going in today to work from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. but there is a very good chance I'm staying until 10 p.m.” said Osborn.

According to Osborn, in the month of July there were 360 mandated shifts of overtime in the Marquette Prison and at the same prison in June there were 230 shifts of overtime.

The overtime is also contributing to the mental health issues that correction officers are facing.

The Michigan Department of Corrections funded a recent study this year looking into the wellness of prison staffers and according to Gautz, the results were concerning.

"Corrections officers are far more likely to have higher rates of PTSD than even the military or first responders, because of the trauma that they can see,” said Gautz.

The study also found elevated levels of anxiety, alcohol abuse and depression.

After these results, the MDOC created a wellness unit specifically for the correction officers and is still in the process of staffing the unit.

The MDOC and the union are working together in attempt to increase recruitment.

But the union says the problem is, the department has a retention problem.

"They are going to have to find a way to enhance the benefit package to bring some things back that kept people in this line of work because many of those have been eroded over the past several years,” said Osborn.

The MDOC spokesperson says what also contributes to the vacancies is the mass hiring of prison workers back in the 1980’s, when there was a push to be tougher on crimes across the nation and more prisons were built.

Now those officers are retiring.

The Michigan Department of Corrections is always hiring and they encourage anyone who is interested to apply.

You also no longer need the 15 college credits of criminal justice court work before becoming an officer.

“You just have to get those 15 credits within 18 months of becoming an officer,” said Gautz.

This is just one of the many changes the department and union are making, hoping to increase recruitment and fix the under staffing problem in the Michigan prisons.

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