• Impacts of Understaffing
    Updated On: Mar 79, 2017

    American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network

    Serving America’s Corrections Professionals

    Impacts of Understaffing

    March 2017

    Staffing is arguably the most crucial element to safety inside our prisons. It is important that 
    our politicians and policy analysts realize that Corrections isn’t just about, “us” watching 
    “them.” The total interaction between staff and inmates is what determines the level of safety 
    within the facility. Inmates stage altercations to determine staff response time and the strength 
    of the response; those incarcerated know staffing levels as well the administration does. 
    Twenty-four hours a day they watch, looking for weakness.

    They know when we are short staffed, when we are fatigued from too much forced overtime, and when 
    we are stressed. They know who comes, and who goes, and when.

    Approximately 80% of correctional budgets go towards providing necessary personnel.
    Corrections is one of the most labor intensive businesses in the public-sector today. (Staffing 
    Analysis Workbook for Jails Rod Miller Community Resource Services, Inc. (CRS) Dennis Liebert Jan 

    Attempts to decrease costs by reducing staff has had limited success. Unmanning towers, replacing 
    staff with cameras, relying more on technology than human intelligence, has resulted in increased 
    escapes and more violence behind the walls.

    While technology can certainly be deployed to assist, it can never replace staff. Cameras are only 
    good to prosecute assaults - they do not deter, nor do they assist, staff or inmates under attack. 
    They do not respond - they record. Electronic fencing may deter some inmates from escape, but 
    unmanned towers eliminate vital observation and listening posts. They also provide yard officers a 
    safe haven when violence erupts on the yard.

    An informative document to review is the 2008 National Institute of Corrections Staffing Analysis. 
    It outlines how administrators view staffing patterns and what influences their decisions. (NIC 
    Dec. 2008 NIC Accession Number 02266)

    “The growth of the prison population has required more complex management of corrections. Decreases 
    in the amount of money available for government functions, particularly corrections, have led to 
    increased governmental scrutiny of staf?ng requirements because personnel costs make up the largest 
    portion of operating budgets. External pressure for more staff comes from collective bargaining 
    units and prison litigators, while competing governmental agencies and taxpayer groups think 
    prisons have too many staff. Increasing pressure for accountability has 

    American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network PO Box 1175, Thayne, WY 83127 Phn 307-883-9707

    caused correctional administrators to develop methods to ensure that staf?ng complements are 
    planned and managed not only for safety, but also for economy and ef?ciency.” 

    Inmate-to-officer staffing ratios as reported by the various local, state and federal facilities, 
    are fatally flawed. The ratios being presented to the public and our elected officials are simply 
    the product of dividing the total number of inmates by the total number of staff. There is no 
    accounting for the fact that officers only work a portion of a day, and usually only 4 or 5 days 
    per week. Yet when staffing ratios are determined, each officer is counted as if they are on duty 
    24/365. Absent a facility post audit, the ACOIN Myth of Staffing Ratios is a good reference to help 
    you begin the process of gaining a more accurate picture of your staffing ratios.

    If you have a legislator who is sympathetic to the plight of our profession, we urge you to seek a 
    post audit at each facility to determine what the actual staffing level is for each post given the 
    different levels of security. We cannot analyze what works and what doesn’t if this information is 
    withheld or not readily available. Decreasing staffing ratios has a negative ripple effect.

    The impacts of understaffing are far reaching;
    ? Increased violence behind the walls, inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff “Understaffing has 
    clearly been a contributory factor in many of the deaths and it would be of enormous concern to us 
    if current resource levels were made any worse in prisons. . . We came across mental health 
    appointments being missed because there were not sufficient staff to escort the prisoner. . . 
    Current operation staffing levels are not adequate even when the current recruitment exercises have 
    been completed; the benchmark levels of staffing need to be reviewed. . 
    . In March, the Justice Committee found there has been a steady rise in the number of assaults 
    against staff and other prisoners, as well as prisoner deaths since 2011. It found the government 
    had failed to plan adequately for risks arising from staff shortages and was responding slowly to 
    problems caused as a result of cuts.”
    Understaffing contributes to prison suicides – report Published time: 1 Jul, 2015 15:09 Edited 
    time: 1 Jul, 2015 15:10 Reuters / Stephen Hird / Reuters
    ? Increased chance of escape
    “Towers were left unmanned due to budget cuts”  Monday, July 21, 2014
    LANSING – “House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) and state 
    Representative Andrew J. Kandrevas (D-Southgate) are calling for action after a report from the 
    Michigan attorney general showed that unmanned guard towers may have contributed to the escape of a 
    prisoner from the Ionia Correctional Facility earlier this year. Cuts to the Michigan Department of 
    Corrections’ (MDOC) budget forced the prison to reduce staffing.” 
    ? Increased staff sick leave utilization
    ?  Increased forced overtime
    Overcrowded, Understaffed California DOC Pays $471 Million in Overtime
    APRIL 15, 2008 by John Dannenberg published in Prison Legal News April, 2008, page 34 “The report 
    outlined a series of recommendations, including a thorough review of the agency’s hiring and 
    retention practices and urged it to discontinue its practice of 12-hour shifts. The change from 
    eight-hour shifts that began in 2012 as a way to save money ‘does not in itself safe money or 
    American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network PO Box 1175, Thayne, WY 83127 Phn 307-883-9707

    resources’ because inadequate staffing requires the agency to rely on expensive overtime ‘in order 
    to work properly,’ the report said.” 
    ? Increased turnover rates
    “The types of turnovers that cause problems are due to stress burnout, too many inmate assaults on 
    staff, forced overtime, lack of proper training, and lack of quality supervisors. . . when 
    problematic turnover becomes a regular occurrence, morale suffers, the word spreads, vacancies 
    occur, and recruitment becomes dif?cult.”  
    National Institute of Corrections Staffing Analysis, 2008  DECEMBER 2008 NIC Accession Number 02266
    Page xvii
     “The frequent turnover also has resulted in having 16 percent of all corrections officers 
    considered new hires or trainees, exacerbating the level of inexperience and adding additional 
    stress to more experienced employees, the report said.” 
    ? Increased PTSD
    Corrections suffers from a 31% PTSD rate; the national average is 3%. We face higher divorce and 
    suicide rates than any other public safety occupation. (see ACOIN report issued Jan 2017)
    ?  Increased workers’ compensation claims
    ? Increased use of the Family Medical Leave Act
    ? Increase in severity of injury due to decreased response time
    ? Increase in contraband introduced into the facility
    " ‘Two weeks prior, another incident took place involving two inmates acting erratically after 
    smoking synthetic marijuana (K2, spice) that was brought in during visitation,’ Homan said in a 
    prepared statement. ?Any thing that doesn’t set off a metal detector can come into the facility 
    because officers are no longer allowed to pat-search visitors. It’s up to one officer to monitor 40 
    inmates during visitation, so it wasn’t a big surprise that this situation occurred.’" 
    2 Iowa prison guards assaulted; union blames understaffing William Petroski , bpetrosk@dmreg.com
    Published 11:16 a.m. CT Aug. 25, 2016 | Updated 1:09 p.m. CT Aug. 25, 2016
    ?  Increased claims of excessive force
    ?  Increased PREA violations
    ? Increase in the length of time it takes to feed the inmates
    ? Increase in inmate frustration with delays on meals, mail and visitation
    Inmate Communications Committee Meeting April 2, 2014 minutes, Warden Gerry in attendance. “Staff 
    was extremely overworked and that was a major factor in degenerating relations between them and 
    inmates. Officers are working up to 4 doubles in a row and are clearly exhausted. Tempers are short 
    reaction time decreased and tempers are quick to flare. 
    Complaints about no librarian and not enough staff to keep it open. Staffing shortages leading to 
    problems with feeding the inmates in a timely manner on the second shift resulting in multiple 
    problems. Inmates requested a camera be installed to assist officers in monitoring chow to avoid 

    American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network PO Box 1175, Thayne, WY 83127 Phn 307-883-9707

    Concord State Prison, New Hampshire
    ?  Increase in individual staff responsibilities
    ?  Increase in inmate grievances
    ? Increase in inmate lawsuits and civil rights violation claims
    “SEPTEMBER” 22, 2015 7:02 PM  
    Audit details “dangerous” understaffing at Florida prisons  
    Agency is “deviating from its own rules” by not declaring emergency Understaffing endangers “public 
    staff and inmates,” and it is “routine” Legislators say they are neither surprised nor alarmed 
    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/special-reports/florida-prisons/article36225681.html Herald/Times 
    Tallahassee Bureau 
    “Florida’s prisons are so ?chronically understaffed’ for even the most basic daily routines that an 
    emergency should be declared to keep corrections officers and inmates safe, an independent audit 
    commissioned by the Florida Department of Corrections has concluded. The lack of staff costs the 
    state millions in overtime costs, encourages vacancies, falls below national standards and exposes 
    Florida taxpayers to increased costs if a murder, riot or escape were to occur at any of the state 
    prisons, the report by the National Institute of Corrections concludes.” 
    ?  Increased court involvement, decrees and settlements
    ?  Increased inmate suicide and self-harm
    Prisons inspector lays out factors behind high suicide rate  
    “Nick Hardwick blames understaffing, overcrowding, poor mental health care and failure to identify 
    risks for vulnerable inmates. Hardwick said the rise in suicides, violence and self-harm, could not 
    be attributed to a single cause. But, he added: ?In my view it is impossible to avoid the 
    conclusion that the conjunction of resource, population and policy pressures, particularly in the 
    second half of 
    2013-14, and particularly in adult male prisons, was a very significant factor.’” 
    Birmingham prison. A third of prisons inspected were deemed not safe enough in 2013-14. Sandra 
    Laville and Matthew Taylor Tuesday 21 October 2014 14.07 EDT Last modified on Tuesday 7 February 
    05.09 EST
    ? Decreases in staff training hours
    “Although in-service training reduces the availability of staff to cover posts, effective and 
    regular training can prevent many staf?ng problems, such as persistent vacancies. On the other 
    hand, staf?ng problems can prevent managers from providing necessary training. In-service training 
    should not be seen as a luxury, but as a necessary component of the staf?ng function.” (NIC Page 
    ?  Decreases in inmate/Officer intelligence gathering
    Much of the intelligence we gain behind the walls is directly related to the level of inmate/staff 
    interaction. The quality and amount of the intelligence gathered increases everyone’s safety.

    American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network PO Box 1175, Thayne, WY 83127 Phn 307-883-9707

    ?  Decrease in observation
    Closing towers, our best vantage point on yard activities, has led to escapes. Towers are also a 
    safe haven for officers when threatened with violence while patrolling the yard. Additionally, in 
    foggy conditions towers act as listening posts.
    ?  Decreased family time
    ?  Decrease in morale (vacation, comp and time off requests denied)
    ?  Decreased control over the inmate population and physical plant
    ?  Decreased emergency response time
    ? Decreased inmate programs and visitation which leads to inmate disorder
    ?  Decreases in rehabilitation opportunities (increased recidivism)
    ?  Decreases timeliness in the adjudication of inmate complaints (lawsuits)
    ? Decreases the ability to de-escalate situations with a need to revert more quickly
    to suppression techniques rather than verbal de-escalation.
    With proper staffing levels the mere presence of a full complement of staff promotes discussion 
    rather than discord. Staff presence generally diminishes inmate violent behavior.
    ? Decrease in facility searches
    Fewer officers means fewer searches, more contraband, and more violence.

    ?  Decrease in design capacity.
    When a facility is initially rated, the number of staff required is a major consideration in 
    establishing the number of inmates a facility can safely contain, i.e. the design capacity. When 
    staffing ratio’s decline a correlating reduction in design capacity should be noted.

    Increases in inmate-on-inmate violence
    "?The level of violence in the workplace is the issue the ombudsman should be looking at,’ union 
    spokesman Dan Sidsworth said at a news conference. ?What is causing all this violence in our 
    workplace? And we're saying it's these other issues, it's the shortage of staff, it's the 
    overcrowding, it's the lack of equipment and the lack of training.’" 

    Increases in inmate-on-staff violence
    The following is a sample of the numerous articles on the increases in violence behind the walls as 
    a result of understaffing:

    DOC: Overcrowding and understaffing contribute to prison violence 
    Monday, December 7th 2015, 4:25 pm MST Tuesday, December 15th 2015, 5:04 pm MST By Michael Doudna, 

    American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network PO Box 1175, Thayne, WY 83127 Phn 307-883-9707

    “The Alabama Department of Corrections faces some violent consequences from prison overcrowding and 
    understaffing, according to Commissioner Jefferson Dunn. So far this year the state has seen seven 
    inmate-on-inmate homicides, 118 inmate-on-inmate serious assaults and 12 serious assaults on 

    “The incident at the Morey Unit evolved out of a rich combination of complacency, inexperience, 
    lack of professionalism, inadequate staffing, vague security procedures, poor training, lack of 
    situational awareness, premature promotions, non-competitive pay, ineffective communication, 
    malfunctioning equipment, high inmate-to-officer ratios….” 
    “The same year Arnold was assaulted, a kitchen worker and a correctional officer at a state prison 
    in Arizona were sexually assaulted during a 15-day hostage standoff that was the longest in modern 
    American history. An independent commission appointed by the Arizona governor quickly blamed 
    inadequate staffing and officer complacency, and 16 top administrators were fired, demoted or 

     “?In the past two years, roughly 900 correctional officers have been assaulted on the job, but you 
    don't see the ombudsman publicizing pictures of my officers with their chest ripped open from bites 
    and these types of activities that go on. . . The excessive use of force is not systemic,’ 
    Sidsworth said. ?What is a systemic problem is chronic understaffing.’" 

    “Last summer, the head of Delaware's correctional officers union issued a dire warning: If the 
    state didn't hire more officers, they would soon have to bring in another kind of guard — the 
    National Guard — to maintain order. His comments came after a death-row inmate punched an officer 
    in the face at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna. 
     ?Sometime between January and July, the wheels are going to come off,’ Geoff Klopp, president of 
    the Delaware Correctional Officers Association, predicted in a 2016 News Journal interview 
    Klopp was prescient. This week Vaughn prisoners, demanding better treatment, education 
    and rehabilitation programs and fretting about their fate under President Donald Trump, staged a 
    protest the only way they knew how — by holding staffers and other inmates hostage for more than 18 
    Lt. Steven Floyd Sr.: ?The uprising inside Building C claimed the life of 47-year-old Lt. Steven 
    Floyd, a father of two. On Friday, the third straight day of a statewide prison lockdown, state 
    police determined that Floyd's death was a homicide by trauma.’ 
    Leaders promised the same after Vaughn's last hostage incident in 2004, when serial rapist Scott 
    Miller, serving a 699-year sentence, kidnapped and raped a prison counselor. A correctional officer 
    later shot and killed Miller. 

    American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network PO Box 1175, Thayne, WY 83127 Phn 307-883-9707

    That nearly seven-hour standoff resulted in the counselor, Cassandra Arnold, filing a federal 
    lawsuit against the state, citing security lapses, overworked officers and other dangerous 
    conditions. The lawsuit was settled in 2005 for $1.65 million.” 

    “?BOP officials reported increased use of double and triple bunking, waiting lists for education 
    and drug treatment programs, limited meaningful work opportunities, and increased inmate-to-staff 
    ratios,” the September report says. ?These factors, taken together, contribute to increased inmate 
    misconduct, which negatively affects the safety and security of inmates and staff. Nearly all BOP 
    facilities had fewer correctional staff on board than needed, with a BOP-wide staffing shortage in 
    excess of 3,200,’ the GAO said, citing a 2010 Justice Department study. 
    In fiscal year 2010, there were almost 1,700 assaults on bureau staff, according to an April 2011 
    GAO report.” Prison crowding undermines safety, report says By Joe Davidson October 15, 2012 
    Washington Post

    JESSUP — “The federal prison system’s attempts to save money set the stage for the murder of 
    Correctional Officer Eric Williams, his father Donald Williams said Monday. 

    Eric Williams — equipped with just a radio, keys and handcuffs — was working alone in a unit 
    housing about 130 inmates when an inmate stabbed him 129 times and fractured the 34-year-old 
    Nanticoke resident’s skull during nightly lockdown on Feb. 25, 2013. 

    ?One of the major reasons that my son is in the cemetery is money,’ Donald Williams said during a 
    forum on corrections Monday. ?Years ago, the federal prison came up with a thing called ‘mission 
    critical’ where, because of budgetary restraints, they decided to ... make them operate on the 
    minimal amount of bodies that they possibly could while they increased in a crazy way the number of 
    people they were housing.’” 

    New Hampshire
    “During the audit period, the Department of Corrections (DOC) staffed so-called minimum security 
    posts, which are the posts DOC management believed were the minimum necessary to ensure the safety 
    and security of the community, staff, and inmates at its prison facilities. However, several 
    factors have combined to create a staffing environment which may become unsustainable. Over the 
    last three fiscal years, the DOC operated its prisons with fewer uniformed employees, while 
    increasing the percentage of total hours worked using overtime.  
    The DOC has not recently completed a system-wide staffing analysis to determine which posts are 
    required, how many staff are needed for each post, and what type and rank of staff are most 
    efficient for each post. The Department decreased staff due to budget reductions. Although key to 
    facility safety and security, post decisions have been the result of budget reductions as much as 
    an analysis of system risks, needs, and safety. As a result, management has accepted, but not 
    quantified, the risk of some security activities not being done or not being done as well as they 
    should be.  

    American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network PO Box 1175, Thayne, WY 83127 Phn 307-883-9707

    Security posts should also have an associated shift relief factor, which is the number of full- 
    time equivalent employees required to fully staff each post while accounting for absences and 
    without resorting to overtime. The DOC has not determined the appropriate shift relief factors for 
    any of its prison facilities. Management instead regularly relies on overtime and a daily process 
    of filling the staffing gaps caused by position vacancies and absences due to vacations, illnesses, 
    and other causes.  
    The DOC lacks a recruitment and retention strategy to ensure vacancies are filled quickly to 
    minimize the effects of uniformed employee attrition. Between January 2009 and May 2012, the DOC 
    lost more uniformed employees than were hired, further increasing the reliance on overtime. The DOC 
    has not comprehensively assessed the monetary and non-monetary impacts of its increasing reliance 
    on overtime and hiring only full-time uniformed employees. While overtime can be less expensive 
    than hiring a new employee for short-term, temporary vacancies, the DOC has  not considered other 
    staffing options, such as part-time employees, or determined the most efficient, effective, and 
    economical mix of staff. Neither has the DOC quantified the effects its heavy reliance on overtime 
    has on employee morale, turnover rates, injury, leave, and overall risks. Administrative practices 
    could be more efficient, as the DOC inconsistently followed the collective bargaining agreement and 
    its own policies.” 

    The American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network urges all Correctional Officer unions, 
    associations, and fraternal orders to seek mandatory staffing ratios for each level of security in 
    their jurisdictions. Much of the literature produced by various governmental sources on this topic 
    decry mandatory staffing levels. They cite the dynamic nature of corrections, the need for 
    administrative flexibility, cost controls and the wide variations we seen in facility age and 
    design. We believe that establishing baseline minimum staffing levels based on the security level 
    of the facility, the design capacity and number of inmates being held, is doable and vital.
    Every prison and jail design includes the number of inmates the facility can “safely” hold and the 
    number of staff needed to ensure the security of the facility and safety of the public.
    These determinations are made by the government, not the employees or their unions. Initial 
    staffing ratios are established when the facility is designed. Any deviations from the number of 
    inmates must be adjusted for with a corresponding adjustment to the number of staff. Properly 
    staffed prisons, jails and juvenile detention facilities make it safer for the public, staff and 

    Suggested Readings:
    2008 National Institute of Corrections Staffing Analysis, (DEC 2008 NIC Accession Number 02266)

    1988 National Institute of Corrections Staffing Analysis Workbook for Jails, Rod Miller Community 
    Resource Services, Inc. (CRS) and Dennis Liebert January 1988

    ACOIN Myth of Staffing Ratios 2015
    ACOIN Report on PTSD, Divorce and Suicide Rates 2017

    Correctional Officer Wellness and Safety Review, U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice 
    Programs Diagnostic Center, Jaime Brower, Psy.D., ABPP July 2013

    Prepared by ACOIN February 2017  

    American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network PO Box 1175, Thayne, WY 83127 Phn 307-883-9707


  • National Correctional Employees Union

    Copyright © 2023.
    All Rights Reserved.

    Powered By UnionActive

  • Top of Page image