Short on Staff, Prisons Enlist Teachers and Case Managers as Guards – PNCU Lonas Online

From the outside, the prison complex in Florence, Colo., is a forbidding citadel of steel, concrete and coiled barbed wire, housing some of the most notorious inmates in federal custody. To hundreds of its employees, it is a stressful, isolated, short-staffed workplace.

Like many other federal prisons, Florence is undergoing a staffing crisis, with head counts on some guard shifts so low that teachers, case managers, counselors, facilities workers and even secretaries at the complex have been enlisted to serve as corrections officers, despite having only basic security training.

“If I don’t show up, if I’m sick, or if I’m in training, or if I’m on vacation, they will force someone to take my shift,” said John Butkovich, a corrections officer and union representative at Florence, which includes the country’s most secure supermax unit and three less restrictive facilities. “It creates a safety issue: If you aren’t savvy with the housing unit, or the position you’re working, you are not going to spot a problem before it starts. This isn’t the way it was meant to be.”

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies around the country, especially corrections departments, are struggling to hire and retain employees at all levels, as higher-paying, less demanding jobs draw away people facing rising housing, food and transportation costs. Nowhere has that been more of a problem than at the chronically troubled Bureau of Prisons, with about 160,000 inmates at 122 prisons and camps — employing a work force of about 34,000 people who often earn less than state and county corrections workers.

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