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  • Doug Tjapkes

State COs are picketing! Are we listening?

Michigan prison guards are making some strong demands, and it’s time that somebody listens. A couple weeks ago the Michigan Corrections Organization organized a picket at both prison sites in Muskegon. This week they did the same at Marquette Branch Prison in the U.P. The MCO is a union that represents more than 6,000 corrections officers who serve in our 30 state prisons. The problem, simply stated: They’re shorthanded. Employees with the Michigan Department of Corrections say 750 officer vacancies statewide have made working at prisons dangerous. Byron Osborn, union president, is being quoted in media reports as saying that widespread mandatory overtime, sometimes several days a week, is normal practice. “It’s not uncommon for our folks to be on the clock for 24 hours because they can’t get relieved. We don’t have anybody to go relieve them.” We hear it from the prisoners’ perspective in our office. You know things aren’t good when you have inmates taking the side of the COs. Time and again we hear prisoners feeling sorry for officers who are working double shifts, so tired they can hardly see straight. The union is making some pretty strong demands. They want MDOC Director Heidi Washington replaced. And, they’re asking that the state legislature and the Governor make work of addressing this issue. We’re not going to get into pensions, and what the state ought to do about retirement for officers. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that recruiting people for a highly stressful position is difficult enough. Then, when you factor in other issues, like COVID 19 and working double-shifts, red flags abound. How are you going to entice people to make this a career when the people already employed hate to go to work? This cannot continue. Families, friends and loved ones of 35,000 men and women who reside in our state prisons expect them to be cared for and treated properly. That’s what the state promises when these people get locked up. That’s what our constitution guarantees. “We believe a complete overhaul in leadership is needed, and there also needs to be a commitment made by the legislature and the Governor’s office to address the recruitment and retention of corrections officers in Michigan,” said Osborn. We’ve been critical of some officer behavior in the past, and we’d certainly love to see more training, especially in areas of handling the mentally challenged. But for now, we’re siding with these men and women on this immediate problem. It’s a difficult and thankless job, that of being a corrections officer. If we want good people doing these tasks, we’ve got to be good to them! Friends and family members of Michigan inmates should be contacting their state legislators and their Governor right now. Time’s a wastin’!

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