Vacancies Trending Downward As MDOC Strives For Recruitment Increase

(Gongwer News Service) – While the Department of Corrections is still in the midst of losing as many as 55 staffers a month to an ongoing retirement bubble, officials with the agency say they are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel and anticipate hiring to increase.

In remarks made Wednesday during a presentation to the House Appropriations Corrections Subcommittee, MDOC legislative liaison Kyle Kaminski said the department is “on track” to hire roughly 800 officers this year – surpassing the up to 660 it is expected to lose this year, predominantly from retirement.

The loss of officers is an ongoing struggle for the department after hiring officers en masse in the 1980s and ’90s, most of whom are now eligible to retire. Not being able to competitively draw health care workers to prisons has also dealt MDOC a blow for recruitment.

Current vacancies in prisons across the state range anywhere from 2 percent to 19.4 percent. The statewide average sits just shy of 10 percent, Mr. Kaminski said. To date, the department has hired 411 individuals of the 775 it is projected to hire this year.

Money requested in the fiscal year 2020-21 executive budget recommendation would provide funding to hire roughly 700 new officers, he said.

All of this points to MDOC hitting its hiring goal for 2020 and indicates a strong 2021 hiring season as well. Mr. Kaminski said the department anticipates the retirement bubble will metaphorically burst within the next five years, helping MDOC move from simply “treading water” with its hires to actively finding and retaining corrections officers.

Roughly 600 officers will become retirement eligible within the next year, but trend will not continue, as within the next five years, about 1,200 are expected to reach retirement.

There is one speed bump, however, when attempting to recruit and keep these officers: college credits, Mr. Kaminski said.

In order to be a corrections officer in Michigan, an individual must have or complete 15 hours of college credits. To help with this, the department is offering online college to officers, with the end goal being to make the process as inexpensive and stress-free as possible.

Should an officer not be able to complete their credits within a set amount of time, they can request a waiver to allot them 18 additional months to complete these courses. Mr. Kaminski said roughly 60 percent of hires over the past two years have asked for a waiver and could be at risk of discharge should they not complete their courses.

Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport) questioned if these classes were a barrier of access to recruitment and attainment, and if they were truly necessary if officers were getting on-the-job training for their positions.

Mr. Kaminski said the department found with a better-educated officer populace, there was less turmoil between staff and prisoners.

Ms. Lightner then questioned if 18 months was too short a timeframe for people to earn the credits with officers working a 12-hour shift and needing to be functioning for school part-time, saying: “This is a lot to put on them, to be blunt.”

Again, Mr. Kaminski said that the education requirement was found to be necessary, though he didn’t know if it was possible to extend the deadline for earning those credits.

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