Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield. Photo courtesy of WNPR
Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield. Photo courtesy of WNPR

Unions representing prison workers warn that state facilities don’t have adequate staff and that the Department of Correction system as a whole is short about 400 officers.

Add in upcoming retirements and the department could face a staffing disaster, say members of Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees. They expect staffing shortages to get a lot worse in the next year as another 400 staff become eligible for retirement.

“We’re currently facing a mass exodus by way of retirements among the multitude of other staffing issues, such as extended leaves due to staff assaults and personal or family illness as well as resignations due to safety concerns,” said Amanda Tower, an officer at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield and union steward for AFSCME Local 391.

Brian Larson, an officer at the Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire, said extended workdays aren’t uncommon.

“Right now no one is going to work for eight hours,” said Larson, who sits on the executive board of AFSCME Local 387. “There is an abundance of mandated overtime due to exhaustion due from COVID outbreaks and staff shortages. We operate on rolling 16-hour shifts, during which we arrive at our designated time, work our shift and get drafted for another eight hours.”

Overtime pay records tell a similar story. The department has paid the most overtime of all state agencies for the last five years, according to data from the Office of Fiscal Analysis. Overtime spending in the past year was the highest, with a 16% increase compared to the year before.

DOC Commissioner Angel Quiros said “maintaining safe staffing levels has always been and will continue to be a priority of this administration.” He added that the staffing status is not unusual. On top of the pandemic, the department is also dealing with shortages resulting from workers’ compensation and military leaves.

Quiros said the department expects to have about 200 more new officers by the end of the year.