Corrections officers’ union slams Gov. Whitmer, demands she send National Guard to ease staffing shortages

News & Politics

The president of the union representing corrections officers in the state of Michigan has called on Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to bring in members of the National Guard to ease staffing shortages at state prisons.

In a letter dated July 3, Byron Osborn, the president of Michigan Corrections Organization, laid out his members’ plight, claiming that lengthy shifts and forced overtime have prevented officers from “a normal, healthy life with their families.”

‘It’s just a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt or killed.’

Osborn also blamed Whitmer — who once supported the “spirit” of efforts to defund police — for ignoring the problem. “Under your watch, state corrections officers continue to suffer unlike any other state employees ever have in the history of Michigan,” he wrote.

“None of your other state employees are being subjected to these conditions.”

Osborn also elaborated on the “dangerous” conditions at the state prisons, implying that Whitmer and other state leaders may have a distorted view of day-to-day life at correctional facilities.

“Contrary to what is commonly conveyed to the public, the state prisons are not pleasant facilities filled with well-treated officers that are churning out rehabilitated prisoners,” Osborn said.

Instead, prisons are often overrun by gangs and “coddled” prisoners while officers are hamstrung by protocols issued by the Michigan Department of Corrections that limit “prisoner discipline” and use of segregation measures such as solitary confinement, Osborn said.

Osborn then invited Whitmer to visit the prisons and experience for herself the grueling conditions there. “I’ll gladly escort you inside several of your prisons so you can speak directly with your corrections officers, not the administration,” Osborn said.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Michigan has approximately 33,000 state inmates dispersed among 26 different facilities. Of those, about half have a staffing shortage of 20% and about one-fifth have a shortage above 30%, Osborn alleged, often because of attrition.

“People are resigning in droves,” Osborn claimed.

In 2022, Osborn mentioned the idea of bringing in the National Guard to address the shortage issues but stopped short of calling for it. Now, he says his members have reached the “point of desperation.”

“On behalf of all the state corrections officers represented by our organization, I am formally requesting that you activate the Michigan National Guard to provide immediate custody support to prisons in dire need of it while we work directly with you to find realistic, permanent relief measures,” he said.

Members of the National Guard were deployed to Michigan prisons several years ago to assist with COVID vaccinations. Should they be deployed in a security capacity, they likely will not be carrying weapons since most correctional officers in Michigan are not armed, though they have access to firearms for emergency use.

In any case, Whitmer and other state officials seem disinclined to acquiesce to Osborn’s request for the National Guard. Though a spokesperson from her office did not respond to the Free Press’ request for comment, MDOC claimed that the issue requires permanent solutions, not “temporary” fixes such as “National Guard members who have not been trained to operate in this environment.”

The Department and other stakeholders need to remain focused on efforts that can stabilize staffing in the long term, including promoting the benefits of a career in corrections,” MDOC’s statement continued. “These include having an active role in keeping their communities safe, serving in a role that can change lives, and the ability to reach annual maximum pay of $68,500 after just three and a half years of service.”

But Osborn hopes leaders will reconsider the idea. “It’s just a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt or killed,” he said.

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