State Rep. Julie Alexander on Thursday introduced legislation to address severe staff shortages at Michigan prisons by allowing former corrections officers to reenter the workforce without losing their retirement benefits.
Heidi Washington, director of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), last week testified before a House panel that about 770 corrections officer positions are currently vacant — a 13.2% shortage. The total is more than 900 vacancies when excluding positions that will be filled by current recruits.
“Understaffed Michigan prisons, including those in Jackson County, lead to overworked corrections officers,” said Alexander, of Hanover. “Our committed officers have demonstrated true dedication as they give even more time and effort to secure prisons, keep our communities safe and protect prisoners. But they need reinforcements. My plan will help cover temporary shortages by recruiting retired corrections officers, who can maintain retirement benefits on top of their wages.”
Under Michigan law, with limited exceptions, retired state employees who are rehired by the state are not permitted to receive their retirement allowance for the duration of their employment. Alexander introduced House Bill 5765, which would allow retired corrections officers to continue receiving their retirement allowance if they return to work to provide custody of MDOC inmates. The retirees would be allowed to fill limited-term positions with no other benefits. The exemption would be in effect for two years after the bill is signed into law.
Alexander’s plan echoes an exemption that was in place prior to 2015, but her plan does not include the previous cap on wages and hours.
Alexander’s home county of Jackson contains four MDOC facilities. According to MDOC testimony, all four facilities in Jackson County are currently experiencing corrections officer shortages of 20% or higher.
“Corrections officers from our Jackson community have shared with me how staff shortages are impacting their work, and they’ve offered proposals to address the problem,” Alexander said. “After listening to their personal stories and thoughtful suggestions, I am introducing a plan based on their valuable input.”
HB 5765 was referred to the Committee on Appropriations.
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