MARQUETTE, Mich., (WJMN) – The Michigan Corrections Association picketed Tuesday, September 8 in Marquette to bring awareness to understaffing in prisons.
According to Byron Osborn, president of the organization, they believe recruitment strategies need to be improved.
“The department’s current recruitment division consists of less than ten people and they also have other duties so we don’t think that’s adequate,” said Osborn. “They don’t have the resources they need of course Michigan’s a big state they’ve got facilities in the upper peninsula and all over the lower peninsula.”
Chris Gautz, public information officer for the MDOC, says the staffing issue is in part because of COVID-19. He says they’ve cancelled one academy and decreased the number of people they can have participating at once.
“Really the biggest reason why we’re here today is because we do quarterly academies and in March when we were set to hire about 250 new officers,” said Gautz. “That was right when the pandemic hit and we had to cancel that academy we would have had that academy running we wouldn’t be anywhere near the level of vacancies that we are today.”
Gautz says they should have around 500 open positions for corrections officers. However, Osborn says that 200 vacant positions would be ideal and that the issue is ongoing and their organization sees the need for a leadership change.
“We believe we need new leadership in the Michigan Department of Corrections, because the current administration has been in place for a little over five years and they’ve not been able to address this problem effectively,” said Osborn.
Gautz says the MDOC is working on the issue and that Marquette Branch Prison in particular recently gained 6 new officers. He says their goal is to have between thirty and forty officers for the next academy in the Upper Peninsula.
“We have an advertising campaign that we’ve had going on for the last year or so… as well as all of our facilities are empowered to go out and recruit people to work for them,” said Gautz. “Director Washington completely revamped our training division and recruitment division so they can be solely focused on this. We put a big emphasis as well on hiring veterans.”
Osborn says the current staffing levels aren’t sustainable and cause too much mandatory overtime.
“We are in our fifth or sixth year here of being approximately between seven hundred and eight hundred officers short statewide.”
Gautz says they lose approximately 600 officers a year for various reasons and hope to hire 900 new officers by the Fall of 2021.