Woman guard: Mandatory overtime ‘really wears you out’

Posted at 3:42 PM, Aug 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-10 15:42:53-04

PITTSFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Corrections Department is spending millions of dollars on mandatory overtime due to a shortage of guards at the state’s only prison for women and a policy that keeps men out of certain posts.

Amber Dotson said she regularly works 12 hours or more, getting up at 4:30 a.m. to report by 6 a.m. at the Huron Valley prison in Washtenaw County. Her base salary is $52,000 a year, but she was paid $44,000 by the end of July, the Detroit Free Press reported Friday.

“By the time we get an off day, we’re just too tired to do anything, whether it’s personal life or family,” the 46-year-old Dotson said. “We’re just too tired. It’s basically our day to catch up on sleep and rest.”

Years ago, male guards at the prison sexually assaulted inmates. Only female guards now work in the housing units, but the state is having a hard time filling vacancies. Overtime has cost $12.4 million in the last two years.

Separately, the U.S. Justice Department is suing the state, accusing the Michigan Corrections Department of violating the rights of female guards. Both sides are trying to reach a settlement. In a different lawsuit, male guards are suing for more opportunities.

The prison has the equivalent of 364 full-time positions, but 52 slots are vacant and 139 people are on family or medical leave, said department spokesman Chris Gautz.

“I hear anecdotally that people go out on (leave) because they’re tired of the overtime,” Gautz said. “That only exacerbates the issue for the people who are left.”

He said “it’s certainly not a good situation” to have people working long hours.

The Michigan Corrections Organization, a union representing guards, has proposed 12-hour shifts to ease overtime and other incentives to make voluntary overtime attractive. Gautz said the department is studying the suggestions, although he said 12-hour shifts wouldn’t work unless the prison was fully staffed.

“Law enforcement nationwide has seen shortages. Corrections isn’t for everybody,” he said.

Dotson said she’s taking online courses in her limited free time to try to get a promotion that doesn’t include mandatory overtime.

“It really wears you out,” she said.