My Take: Better outreach would help corrections officers
State Representative Thomas Albert addresses key issues impacting COs in Michigan
Reprinted with permission from the Ionia Sentinel-Standard
By State Representative Thomas Albert
In January of this year, I was named chair of the House corrections budget. Since then, I have spent a great deal of time learning about corrections in Michigan.
Immediate attention is needed to address the chronic understaffing of corrections officers. Understaffing negatively impacts corrections officers from their day-to-day operations to their family life. I recognize the problem and I am committed to fixing it.
During my first term in office I had heard from corrections officers that staffing shortfalls were a significant problem. I dug deeper into the issue and was informed that the prison closure in Muskegon and $4.9 million in one-time spending to hire additional offices would fix the problem. A year has passed and the rate of statewide unfilled positions has increased from 14% to 16%. Even more shocking is the staffing shortfalls at specific prisons. For example, both the Michigan Reformatory and Bellamy Creek prisons in Ionia have shortfalls over 20%. This is unacceptable, and we must do better.
Chronic understaffing has led to recruitment and retention problems. Prisons are in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Staffing shortfalls lead to more work hours per officer. Understaffing is expensive because it leads to voluntary or mandated overtime costs. Although overtime is expensive, it pales in comparison to the $25,582 it costs to train a replacement officer. In this labor market, officers have the choice to find a different job and they are leaving. Failing to fix this problem is akin to throwing tax dollars out the window.
The question that arises is this: How does the state fill the staffing gap? To start, I am proposing a study be conducted to find the best location for a future dedicated corrections officer training academy. I recently went to a training academy that was occurring at a hotel in Lansing. Training new corrections officers at a place that doubles as a wedding venue is nonsense. Recruits had no uniforms, learned defensive tactics under chandelier, and had no way to conduct suitable physical fitness training. Does this sound like a career that indoctrinates professionalism? A training facility is needed to instill pride and esprit de corps within the corrections officer ranks.
Another immediate problem that has been brought to my attention is officers suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Officers may encounter traumatic experiences while working full-time alongside murderers, drug dealers and sex offenders. In the past few years, four corrections officers at the Cottonwood Correctional Facility committed suicide. One of these officers, Michael Perdue, was a 25-year veteran and a father of nine children. It is impossible to know what causes these tragic losses of life, but we are going to do better in offering outreach to those in need. I am proposing $1 million in funding for officers in need of PTSD and health and wellness support.
Thank you to all those who keep our communities safe by working in Michigan’s correctional facilities. I am proud to serve a district that has been an integral part of Michigan’s law enforcement community since the mid-1800s.
About the author
Thomas Albert is a member of Michigan’s House of Representatives, representing portions of Kent and Ionia County including the cities of Belding, Ionia and Lowell as well as the townships of Easton, Ionia, Orleans, Otisco, Ada, Bowne, Caledonia, Cascade, Grattan, Lowell and Vergennes.