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Mich. corrections officers’ union asks governor to deploy National Guard amid staffing shortages

The union’s president said in a letter that COs are being forced to work mandatory 16-hour overtime shifts and, at times, with “far less than the required numbers of officers”


Michigan Department of Corrections

By Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

LANSING, Mich. — A union representing Michigan corrections officers asked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a letter Wednesday to activate the Michigan National Guard to address staffing shortages that have led to “dangerous working conditions” in Michigan prisons.

Byron Osborn, president for the SEIU Local 526M - Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO), said in the letter that officers are being forced to work mandatory 16-hour overtime shifts and, at times, with “far less than the required numbers of officers.”

Osborn argued conditions had worsened under Whitmer’s administration, prisoners were being “coddled at the expense of officer safety” and inmates had taken advantage of “lax MDOC policies on prisoner discipline, classification and use of segregation.”

“The conditions I’ve described to you are real,” Osborn said. “If you are skeptical and wish to see for yourself, I’ll gladly escort you inside several of your prisons so you can speak directly with your corrections officers, not the administration, about the conditions. We’ve been seeking effective relief solutions from the Legislature and MDOC for years and are now to the point of desperation.”

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Messages seeking comment were not immediately returned Wednesday by Whitmer’s office or the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Osborn told The Detroit News that the union of roughly 5,500 corrections officers has “been banging this drum” on staffing shortages for six years, but Wednesday marked the first time the union had requested the National Guard be deployed to provide at least temporary relief to corrections officers.

He argued nearly half of the 26 facilities in Michigan have vacancy rates over 20% and, for five of those facilities, the rate is over 30%.

“We just feel like we’re out of options,” Osborn told The News. “To ask these people to keep working double shifts and live there just like the prisoners do is unacceptable and untenable.”

In a report earlier this year outlining the department’s retention policies, the Michigan Department of Corrections told lawmakers it had recruited and hired more than 400 non-custody staff and 861 new corrections officers in fiscal year 2023.

“This effort helped reduce departmental vacancies and improve staff morale, while working towards the reduction of mandatory overtime,” the department said in a report to the Legislature.

A recent study analyzed data on the number of COs and the number of prisoners in each state. Watch the video below to see which states have the most understaffed prisons.

But during the same 2023 fiscal year, the department saw a total of 1,167 departures, 723 of those involving corrections officers, according to a report submitted to the Legislature earlier this year. Of the 1,167 departures, 97 were retirements, 105 were dismissals and 455 were voluntary departures.

Osborn said that “treading water” pattern — where new hires barely break even with or lag departures — has been ongoing for several years.

Ray Sholtz, executive director of SEIU Local 526M - Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO), wrote in a Detroit News op-ed last month that the state is facing 900 corrections officers vacancies. He said the MDOC in fiscal year 2023 paid $112.6 million in overtime costs, with most going toward overtime pay for corrections officers.


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