US prisons face staff shortages as officials fight COVID. left between

NEW YORK: While hearing prison conditions in the Georgia State House of Representatives in September, a corrections officer called to testify, telling lawmakers how dire their situation had become.
On “acche din”, he told lawmakers, he had six or seven officers to supervise about 1,200 people. He said he was recently assigned himself to look after 400 prisoners. There were not enough nurses to provide medical care.
“All the officers… absolutely hate working there,” said the officer, who did not reveal his name for fear of reprisal.
In Texas, Lance Lowry left after 20 years as a corrections officer to become a long-distance trucker because he couldn’t hold a job anymore. Watching friends and coworkers die of COVID-19, along with dwindling support from their superiors, wore on.
“I would have loved to live until I was 50,” said Lori, 48. But the pandemic changed that.
Staff shortage has long been a challenge for prison agencies, given the low wages and grueling nature of the work. But the coronavirus pandemic – and its impact on the labor market – has put many reform systems in jeopardy. Officers are retiring and leaving in large numbers, while officers are struggling to recruit new employees. And some prisons whose populations have fallen during the pandemic have risen in numbers again, adding to the problem.
There is no point in taking out the jail staff in large numbers now. Some are going for new opportunities as more places are recruiting. Economist Betsy Stevenson of the University of Michigan pointed to the increased risk of COVID-19 for people working in prisons.
“When jobs become riskier, it becomes harder to attract workers,” she wrote in an email. “By failing to protect prisoners from COVID, the criminal justice system not only created an unreasonable risk of serious illness and death for those in prison, but the increased COVID risk for staff undoubtedly contributed to staff shortages. Is.”
Unions representing prison officers in states including Massachusetts and California and also at the federal level claim that vaccine mandates would kick out unaffiliated staff and increase underfunding, though it’s not clear how big of an impact those rules would have.
“There are dozens of reasons to quit and very few to stay,” said Brian Dawe, national director of One Voice United, a nonprofit assistant corrections officer. “Low staff, poor pay, poor benefits, appalling working conditions. In many jurisdictions, officers and their families had enough.”
Employers ranging from construction companies to restaurants are having a hard time hiring and keeping people. About 3% of American workers, 4.3 million, quit their jobs in August, according to new data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the stakes are higher in prisons, where having fewer guards means more dangerous situations for those imprisoned. And for executives left behind, the worsening shortage has made an already arduous job unbearable, many say.
In Georgia, some prisons report vacancy rates of up to 70%. In Nebraska, overtime hours have quadrupled since 2010, as fewer executives are forced to work longer hours. Florida has temporarily closed three of its more than 140 prisons due to underappreciation, and the vacancy rate has nearly doubled in the past year. And in federal prisons across the country, guards are staging picketing in front of their facilities over mindlessness, while everyone from prison teachers to dentists are pulled over to cover security shifts. In recent weeks, journalists from The Marshall Project and The Associated Press have spoken to employees, officers, lawyers and people lodged in more than a dozen prison systems to understand the consequences of staff shortages.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons says about 93% of its front-line guard positions are filled, with more than 1,000 vacancies, though workers in many prisons say they are feeling the pinch as others fill missing officers. are ready for.
Asked last week at a US Senate hearing about federal prison staffing, Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “I agree that this is a serious problem at the Bureau of Prisons.”
Garland told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco was working with the bureau to resolve staffing issues.
Inside prisons, increasing shortages mean increasing lockdowns. The restrictions, which began as a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, continue as there are not enough guards to monitor activities. Some jailed people say they can’t take classes, participate in group therapy sessions, or even exercise or bathe in the amusement yard. This could actually force those in the general population into solitary confinement, and those who are already in isolation, into near-total lockdown.
“If we do a rec once a week, it’s a good week,” said Anthony Haynes, who is on Texas death row in a unit that’s barely half-staff. “It doesn’t always rain.”
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice did not respond to Haynes’ claims, but acknowledged that staffing in Texas prisons is a challenge.
“Prior to COVID-19, employees were often hit by the economic boom and competition for job opportunities,” spokesman Robert Hurst said in an email. “The pandemic has exacerbated these issues. We also believe that the job of a corrections officer is one of the toughest in the state government.” Texas has closed six of its more than 100 facilities in the past year because of staffing problems, he said.
Kansas has cut job training and reduced supervision for people since they were released. Two-thirds of men in Nebraska prisons can’t see visitors on weekends — when most families are free to visit — because of staff shortages.
Dr. Homer Venters, former chief medical officer of the prison system in New York City, oversees the conditions in prisons across the country for court cases. He added that staff shortages will lead to an increase in preventable prison deaths as the quality of care reaches new levels.
“Things are very bad behind bars for a long time now,” Venters said. “There are a lot of employees who are gone. That means basic clinical services, like going to scheduled appointments, aren’t going as well as they were five years ago.”

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