The G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility, a state prison in Jackson, Michigan, is in a severe corrections officer staffing crisis. The current workforce of corrections officers at this prison has an alarming vacancy rate of 25%, with an anticipated increase over the next several months. The prison is 60 officers short of the required 245 officers that it is supposed to have, resulting in the remaining officers working an excessive, unsustainable amount of overtime. This staffing crisis has been going on for several years at this prison and is worsening.
To put this in perspective, over the two-week period from July 9, 2023, to July 22, 2023, there were 720 instances of overtime at this prison. The majority of the overtime were “double shifts,” which means the officers worked 16 hours that day. Of those 720 overtime shifts, 355 of them were mandatory double shifts. Of those 355 mandatory double shifts, 69 of them were in violation of the 32-hour rule, which is a safeguard policy designed to limit mandatory overtime. During this same two-week period, the prison “closed” 149 officer positions, which means that officer positions were not filled, and the facility operated with less than the minimum number of required officers.
The staffing crisis is taking a heavy toll on the corrections officers at the Cotton prison. Several of them shared examples of how it is impacting their lives:
“I live an hour away and it has gotten so bad that I have fallen asleep at the wheel (which was on a day that I did get mandated), and I woke up in the wrong lane with a semi-truck coming at me. I jerked the wheel to the right, lost control and crashed into a field totaling my car. Luckily, I survived!! It was very scary; I am the only parent my children have!!
“I commute about an hour to work, so a double shift is easily 18-19 hours of work activity… I like my job and am good at running a unit. What I do NOT excel at is 3-4 hours of sleep and then trying to take care of all the household chores and necessities and trying to be healthy…. There’s been many, many times I have been startled awake thanks to rumble strips on the side of the expressway…. No end in sight. It’s literally just one day at a time and hoping for a miracle.”
“You can’t plan anything after work because you’re never sure to go home…. On average I will get 4-5 hours of sleep a night between mandates and trying to help my wife out with the house. This amount of mandatory overtime is not sustainable for anyone.”
“I do like my job, but it is very hard to balance work and family with the staffing shortage. We are missing out on basic family interactions and are physically exhausted. The state needs to do something to help us.”
The Michigan Department of Corrections has tried to focus on their recruitment efforts, yet for the past several years the number of officers that have left the ranks has been greater than the number of newly hired officers. The most recent Corrections Officer Academies for new officers have only had approximately 50% of the seats filled, which will result in another net loss of officers at the end of this year. There are currently 920 corrections officer vacancies statewide in the MDOC, and that number is growing. The corrections officer staffing crisis in Michigan prisons needs immediate attention, it is impacting the health and safety of the current officers, other MDOC staff and population, and the citizens of Michigan. These officers take pride in their work, even though most of the public is unaware of what they do and how well they do it. We are asking all of our Michigan legislators to take notice of this long-standing crisis and act on current legislation that will help address the long-term recruitment and retention of state corrections officers in Michigan.