GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan’s jails and prisons continue to grapple with a shortage of guards and a dwindling number of applicants.
The Michigan Department of Corrections is short 900 officers in prisons across the state. Many sheriff’s departments across Michigan and the country are facing shortages too — the Kent County Sheriff’s Office is no exception.
“We’re in constant need of corrections officer to join our team,” Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young said. “It’s been difficult in recruiting over the last several years.”
The sheriff’s office has to fill 20 openings by May. Unlike five years ago, the department is only getting a few dozen applications today.
“If you would’ve taken a snapshot in 2018, if we posted for openings at the Kent County Sheriff’s Office for corrections officers, we would’ve received 200 or 300 applications,” the sheriff recalled.
Smaller departments are being hit especially hard, relying on current officers to work overtime on top of their 12-hour shifts.
“The industry was essentially built on an over-reliance on overtime and the individuals coming into corrections don’t have the desire to work the same number of hours of overtime,” LaJoye-Young said.
The Michigan Department of Corrections told News 8 it has stabilized staffing in some prisons by re-certifying former officers to work voluntary overtime, investing record funding into recruiting statewide and offering retention bonuses. Twelve million dollars in the new state budget will support recruitment and gives bonuses to officers who stay.
But MDOC says “real challenges” remain for other prisons.
“It is imperative that we see an increase in both hiring and retention to support our operations,” an MDOC spokesperson said.
The sheriff said incarnated individuals receive education, counseling and other services. She added it can be challenging for those programs to be effective without a full staff keeping the jail secure.
“I (need) to have that security staff to be present and make sure people are physically safe and they’re engaged with the resources they need to rejoin our community and be a safe, effective member of our community,” she said.
LaJoye-Young explained the hiring gap caused by too much overtime was worsened but the pandemic.
“More importantly, officers started to really realize the jeopardy they were in by doing this kind of work,” she said.
Although the sheriff’s office has relied more on overtime recently than in the past, LaJoye-Young’s goal is for her corrections staff to have no more than 5% overtime.
“When you’re expecting to go home, your family’s counting on you to be home,” she said. “Your kids are waiting for you to come home and work on their homework and prepare dinner, maybe daycare is closing. It’s really hard on staff when they can’t plan their personal time the way the rest of us do.”
LaJoye-Young started her career as a corrections officer and says the work is rewarding.
“Understand that in doing this role, you are supporting members of our own community,” she said. “Incarcerated individuals almost always return back to the community that they’ve come from. Building into that person’s life builds into all of our lives.”
At the Kent County Sheriff’s Office, pay starts at $28.31 an hour (about $59,000 annually) and tops off at $39.50 an hour (about $82,000 a year).
“It is a job you can support your family on,” the sheriff said. “It is a job that has a future and a progression and career opportunities. Many people find it quite satisfying to do over the years.”
If you’re interested in becoming corrections officer, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office is having a job fair on Oct. 11. You can also apply by going to accesskent.com, clicking on online services and then employment opportunities.