The Baraga Correctional Facility, a maximum-security state prison in Baraga, Michigan, is in a critical corrections officer staffing crisis. The current workforce of corrections officers at this prison has an alarming vacancy rate of 30%, with an anticipated increase over the next several months. The prison is 60 officers short of the required 195 officers that it is supposed to have, resulting in the remaining officers working an excessive, unsustainable amount of overtime. This staffing crisis with corrections officers has been going on for several years at this prison and is steadily worsening.
To put this in perspective, over the two-week period from June 25, 2023, to July 8, 2023, there were 451 instances of overtime at this prison. The majority of the overtime was “double shifts”, which means the officers were scheduled to work 16 hours on a single day. Of those 451 overtime shifts, 268 of them were mandatory double shifts. Of those 268 mandatory double shifts, 58 of them were in violation of a 32-hour rule, which is a safeguard policy designed to limit mandatory overtime. During this same two-week period, the prison “closed” 110 officer positions, which means that officer positions were not filled, and the prison operated with less than the minimum number of required officers.
The staffing crisis is taking a heavy toll on the corrections officers at the Baraga prison. Several of them shared examples of how it is impacting them:
“I have to live my work life around mandatory overtime. I’m tired. My health is declining from lack of sleep and I’m living off these vending machines. It feels like Christmas when I’m able to have a home cooked meal.”
“What used to be anxiety around the possible mandatory overtime here and there has turned into existential dread over the certainty of them. I am no longer making any plans during the work week with friends or family as it is always unknown if I will go home at a normal time. Days off are more often used for recovery instead of leisure. If there is leisure to be had it is sometimes marred by the exhaustion that lingers from the work week.”
“Mandatory overtime has severely impacted my life in all ways. Lack of sleep, no time to work out. I have a hard time eating healthy. My relationship with my wife is suffering. I have a hard time getting my basic household chores done. I am angry all the time. There is no normal routine or life. If you have to get something important done, you are forced to call in sick just to make sure you can do it.”
“I have a 2-year-old daughter and a wife who works full time. The number of mandated shifts I work makes raising a young child very challenging for us. The amount of time I spend at work not only affects me but puts a lot of stress on my wife, who must pick up much of the slack at home on top of working full time. She is just as fed up with it as I am.”
The Michigan Department of Corrections has been trying to focus on their recruitment efforts, and it is appreciated, 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 in the MDOC, and that number is growing.
This staffing crisis needs immediate attention. It is impacting the health and safety of the current officers and impacting the operations of the prison system. These officers take pride in their work and like their jobs, even though most of the public is unaware of what they do and how well they do it. They provide a critical service to the citizens of Michigan. 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.