Law to draw in retired COs may be the solution for strained Mich. DOC staff
Retired COs temporarily rehired will be able to continue to receive their retirement benefits while earning a regular paycheck
By Alyssa Burr
LANSING, Mich. — Retired corrections officers are being incentivized to return to work under a new law aimed at closing staffing gaps in state prisons and relieving some of the added strain felt by current officers.
Retired corrections officers temporarily rehired by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) will now be able to continue to receive their retirement benefits while earning a regular paycheck, something state officials hope will be the motivation needed to draw in retirees and fill in the shortage of roughly 800 officers.
Rep. Julie Alexander, R- Hanover, introduced the legislation in February, which received nearly unanimous support in the Michigan legislature. In a statement, Alexander said that the new law is a “good step forward” in the effort to fully staff prisons.
“As they protect our prisons and administer our criminal justice system, corrections officers go the extra mile to make up for staff shortages,” Alexander said. “These faithful officers never let their guard down, and Michigan shouldn’t let them down. That’s why the Legislature and governor approved my plan to recruit retired officers by combining a good income with their hard-earned retirement benefits.”
Low staffed correctional facilities means currently employed officers are filling that void with a substantial amount of overtime hours.
MDOC corrections officers have worked a combined total of 1.3 million hours of overtime through April 2022, according to the Senate Fiscal Analysis of House Bill 5765, averaging out to nearly $59.3 million being distributed by the department in overtime pay.
MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz told MLive in April that staffing shortages were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, although the department was already operating with around 400 vacancies before COVID, due to budget constraints.
“We’re not fully funded to be at zero (vacancies),” Gautz said. “So we always aim to try to be in the 400-500 range of vacancies. That seems to have been historically a good balance, where it allows staff who want to work overtime to do so.
“With 800 plus vacancies, staff are having to work overtime when they don’t want to.”
The department has also tried to minimize the impact of staff vacancies by closing housing units across the state’s 27 prison facilities, which has allowed the department to staff fewer positions.
Before the bill was signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last Friday, former state employees who were rehired by the state weren’t allowed to receive their retirement allowance while they are reemployed.
The new law allows an exemption to take place for two years. Rehired retirees must have retired before January 1, 2022.
Past exemptions to allow former state employees to return as corrections officers for a limited time have not resulted in many retirees’ returning. Under the last exemption in 2012 and 2013, a total of 36 retired officers returned to work, according to the bill analysis.
The exemptions provided in this bill would be less restrictive than past exemptions and could attract a higher number of retirees.
This legislation is the result of advice from corrections officers in Alexander’s 64th House District, she said, where there are four correctional facilities in the Jackson area.
“I’ll continue listening to these civil servants and working to find long-term staffing solutions,” Alexander said.