The Chippewa Correctional Facility, a state prison in Kincheloe, Michigan, is in a severe corrections officer staffing crisis. This prison is 69 officers short of the required 290 that it is currently supposed to have. That is an alarming 24% vacancy rate, which would go higher if the prisoner population were to increase at the prison. This situation has resulted in the remaining officers working an excessive, unsustainable amount of overtime. They are physically exhausted, and their personal lives are being severely impacted. They are not getting the proper rest periods that are needed to enable them to report to work fresh and alert, which is necessary in the prison setting. This staffing crisis has been going on for several years at this prison and has been worsening.
To put this in perspective, over the two-week period from July 23, 2023, to August 5, 2023, there were 617 instances of overtime at this prison. The majority of those overtimes were “double shifts”, which means the officers worked 16 hours that day. Of those 617 overtime shifts, 243 of them were mandatory double shifts. And that number is misleading because officers are forced to “volunteer” to work double shifts on the day prior to an appointment or event that they need to attend in an attempt to avoid having to work mandatory overtime on that day. Another issue created by the staffing crisis is that on a daily basis the prison “closes” officer positions, which means that required security positions were not filled, and the facility operated with less than the minimum number of required officers. The officers are also being “reassigned” to escort maintenance staff on construction projects, meaning that they are being pulled from their security assignments.
The staffing crisis is taking a heavy toll on the corrections officers at the Chippewa prison. Several of them shared examples of how it is impacting their lives:
“It’s not just mandated overtime, it’s voluntary overtime to avoid mandates to make it work for your own life. Is there really a difference? We have all lost countless hours with our families. It’s bad when you basically assume every shift will be 16 unless you worked overtime the day before. Our facility has a high rate of divorce/separation going on and you can’t tell me that’s a coincidence. My ex-wife was late to work multiple times because I was mandated, and she had to stay with our kids. My kids constantly say, “Dad, I hope you don’t get mandated today.” It’s disgusting that my four-year-old knows what a mandate is. During the school year getting up at 7 am with my kids, then working 2 pm to 10 pm and 10 pm to 6 am, I can’t tell you how many times I have zoned out and fallen asleep at the wheel.”
“The long hours from the mandatory overtime causes overall complacency in the workplace. Never sure if we are going home to our families, morale has never been lower. The state expects us to be pinnacles of the facility and role models of sorts, but the difficulty in maintaining a positive attitude is hindered by sleep deprivation. Routine practices like mass shakedowns, responses to incidents, etc. are negatively affected by the officer shortages and this is putting officers in greater danger than we already potentially are. Autonomy in the workplace is diminished, motivation has died, and family is second tier to the employer. The state teaches us about inhumane treatment of prisoners but forget about the inhumane expectations put on its officers- work more and longer with less.”
“I’m missing important family time, as well as time to care for myself with medical appointments and catching up on enough rest to feel functional. Days off don’t feel like days off because I’m constantly busy trying to catch up on things that were put off due to the mandatory overtime on my workdays.”
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 negatively impacting the health and safety of the current officers, the routine operations of the prison, 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.