MUSKEGON, Mich. — Corrections officers from across Michigan gathered in Muskegon Friday to demand that the current state administration make changes to their staffing policies to avoid officers becoming burned out and leaving the job.
Friday's picket was organized by Michigan Corrections Officers, the state union for prison workers.
“We’re supposed to work 8-hour shifts, but we're mandatory to work 16,” said Marcus Collins, a corrections officer in Detroit and a trustee on the executive board of MCO. "Some officers are working 24-plus hours a day because of shortages, because we don't have staff."
Dozens of officers gathered Friday in a parking lot off Sheridan Drive across from Muskegon Correctional Facility to urge administrators at the Michigan Department of Corrections to make immediate changes to stop mandatory overtime, raise staff morale, and retain quality staff members.
“It breaks us down, man,” Collins told FOX 17. "You have officers sick, health is deteriorating. We’re away from our families. Morale is probably lowest it's ever been in corrections existence."
While the current pandemic is making an already stressful situation worse, MCO president Byron Osborn says staffing problems are nothing new.
“Most corrections officers at these short-staffed facilities, they don't even have time for their regular home life activities,” Osborn said Friday. "You work, you go home, you try to get some rest."
He says that the state prison system has been short nearly 800 officers statewide for some time.
“The entire state of Michigan -- I'm talking about the legislature, the Governor's office, the MDOC administration -- there needs to be a commitment to effectively overhaul the recruitment division and their strategy," Osborn said.
"And there needs to be specific action taken to restore benefits for corrections officers, so they stay in the job.”
A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections told FOX 17 News said that the administration agrees with many of the officers' sentiments and is in the process of hiring more officers.
Spokesperson Chris Gautz said the department's hiring plan will allow MDOC to hire 950 officers across the state between now and next fall.
Gautz said that 100 officers-in-training will graduate from the academy next Friday. Six of them will be sent to Muskegon.
The Department of Corrections has also added 30 temporary staff members to the roster at Muskegon Correctional Facility to assist while COVID is forcing some regular staff to stay away from work.
The officers picketing Friday said they want the administration to focus more on retaining quality staff members.
"The department has changed rules and policies to assist with retention of officers and enhanced its focus on recruiting and advertising for new officers and nurses," Gautz said, "as well as empowering staff across the state to recruit people in their community to come and work for this great department."
He says one of the issues MDOC faces right now is that staff are being sent home not because they have tested positive for the virus but because they are breaking rules about wearing a face mask or social distancing, and then have to be sent home due to their increased safety measures due to COVID.
"So yes, we need to hire new officers to help alleviate overtime and vacancy issues," Gautz said. "But we also need the officers we have now to follow the rules and the governor’s executive order and wear their mask at all times. Failure to follow these rules can be just as big a driver of mandated overtime as the vacancies."