The Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, the only state prison for women in Michigan, is in a critical staffing crisis for female corrections officers. The current workforce of officers at this prison has an alarming vacancy rate of 30%. The prison is 103 officers short of the required 344 officers that it is supposed to have, resulting in the remaining officers working an excessive, unsustainable amount of overtime. This staffing crisis with female corrections officers has been going on for years at this prison, with no end in sight.
To put this in perspective, over the two-week period from July 9, 2023, to July 22, 2023, there were 974 overtime shifts at this prison. Most of those overtime shifts were “double shifts”, which means the officers were scheduled to work 16 hours (in some cases more) on a single day. Of those 974 overtime shifts, 469 of them were mandatory double shifts. Of those 469 mandatory double shifts, 159 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” 416 officer positions, which means that officer positions were not filled on a particular day, and the prison operated with less than the minimum number of required officers. Female officers frequently can’t get relief for meal periods or breaks.
The staffing crisis is taking a heavy toll on the female corrections officers at Women’s Huron Valley prison. Several of them shared examples of how it is impacting them:
“The mandates have really taken a toll on my life. I frequently go to work at 2 pm, work 16 hours, and don’t get out until 6:30 am. Then I go home to sleep for about 3 hours before getting ready to come back at 2 pm again. I’m tired as hell and am supposed to be ineligible to work another double shift the next day, but I end up being forced to stay for another double shift due to the staffing crisis. So now I’m really tired and struggling to stay awake, and when I finally get out of work the next morning, I have to take 20 to 30 min to rest in my car before I leave because I’m afraid I might get in a car accident because I’m so tired. My daughter is calling me to talk to me all the way home to make sure I don’t fall asleep. It’s a never-ending nightmare. I’m so tired from all the mandates that on my first day off I just sleep all day. I’ve missed a lot of family events because I’m so tired and I’m trying to make up for all the lost sleep during the week.”
“I have a 3-month-old son. I have missed countless milestones that most mothers do not miss. I am at work more than I am at home. My husband takes care of our son most of the time. When we are both working, my sister in-law has him. The only time I see him during my work week is just before I go to work and just before going to bed after work. The women at WHV are burned out and over-worked. We do not receive meal breaks most days…There is no balance between work and home because we are not afforded one. I never imagined this when I applied for the job.”
“I am now divorced due to the lack of time spent at home with my husband. I am mentally and physically exhausted daily. I am unable to practice my religious rituals, and I’m constantly falling asleep at the wheel, as if I’m a drunk driver… and I do not drink. This is all due to the forced overtime.”
“Loss of family time, loss of my work out time, lack of sleep. Some days I don’t even know what day it is! Can’t cook healthy meals. Sometimes we are forced to stay past 16 hours in a day due to no relief officers. Having to resist speeding on the highway trying not to be late returning to work the next day.”
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.