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The Missouri Department of Corrections continues to seek solutions to serious staffing issues.

As we recently reported, corrections advocates said some employees are working unsustainable levels of overtime.

About 10,000 employees worked 80,000-100,000 overtime hours each month during the last fiscal year.

"It's become untenable in some institutions," Tim Cutt, director of the Missouri Corrections Officers Association, said in our recent story. "The overtime these people are working is just ungodly — it's an ungodly amount of overtime."

DOC Communications Director Karen Pojmann said these employees working overtime include correction officers voluntarily choosing to work the extra hours for additional pay, and staff in other positions who have been trained as correction officers.

She said DOC is trying to limit mandatory overtime, but it is being used in some facilities.

The problems Missouri's DOC are facing aren't unique to our state. Nearly one-third of federal correction officer positions around the country were vacant, requiring cooks, nurses, teachers and other prison staff to guard offenders, the Associated Press reported last month.

So what are the solutions? The offender population has decreased 30 percent since 2017, which helps. Cutt said a move to 12-hour shifts in some locations hasn't been effective. It also has implemented employee programs such as a revamped training program and a leadership training program. We suspect those have helped some.

That leaves pay/benefits/bonuses.

The department offers up to $1,000 for employees who recruit other employees.

It's also boosted pay. The new starting salary of a Missouri corrections officer is $36,000. Experienced correction officers earn an additional 1 percent for every two years of service, up to 20 years. That's an increase of 24 percent in just four years.

CBS News reported Pennsylvania helped to solve its corrections staffing problems by raising pay of correctional officers to $63,360. That's likely not on the table here in Missouri and doing so would require severe cuts to other parts of the budget.

But Pennsylvania has taken other steps that Missouri should consider. It's done everything from redesigning employee break rooms to increasing availability of mental health counselors inside facilities. It has also implemented town hall-style meetings inside the walls to allow corrections officers and inmates to communicate openly.

Such ideas can lead to content employees who will stay longer.

There's no easy answer, and likely no single solution to the problem. It's likely going to take out-of-the-box ideas and multiple solutions.

News Tribune

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