The union representing corrections officers in Michigan is holding pickets outside some of the state’s prisons. The union says the prisons are understaffed, creating a dangerous situation.
The President of the Michigan Corrections Organization, Byron Osborn, and several officers were in front of the Detroit Detention Center on Wednesday. Osborn says there are about 750 unfilled positions at Michigan prisons right now and each year the department only hires about as many staff as the number who quit.
“So that equates to more mandatory overtime, more burnout, more fatigue for the folks who are still here,” Osborn says.
The Michigan Department of Corrections agrees there are too many vacancies. Chris Gautz is a spokesperson for the prison system.
“So, that’s why the director goes to the Legislature every year and advocates for more and more funding,” Gautz says.
He adds that the corrections officers are not helping the situation when someone gets sick with COVID-19 because so many officers have to be sent home after contact tracing through video recordings at the prisons.
“They’re not following the rules of social distancing and mask-wearing is pretty much equal to the problem of the vacancies. So, it certainly exacerbates (overtime) mandates, but not so much because people are testing positive, but because people aren’t following the rules.”
The union disagrees that COVID-19 is the problem.
“The underlying understaffing issue has been present for four years prior to COVID-19,” Osborn says.
The union has called for MDOC Director Heidi Washington to be removed from her position for her handling of COVID-19 within the prison system.
MDOC is hoping to get about $20 million more in its budget from the Legislature to hire about 950 corrections officers. The union says each year about as many people leave for better jobs and there are still vacancies across the state.