Across the nation, the corrections crisis is getting worse. One corrections officer, who testified in front of the Georgia state House of Representatives, said on average that six or seven officers are in charge of about 1200 people, with barely any nurses to give medical care.
Texas corrections officer Lance Lowry left his job as a corrections officer after 20 years to become a long-haul trucker. The conditions were unbearable, with very little support from higher-ups and many coworkers and friends dying from COVID.
He thought he would stay until “at least 50,” but it turns out it was not in the cards, mostly because of the pandemic. Long before COVID-19 plagued corrections, staffing shortages presented challenges.
The work is hard, with long hours and low pay, leaving many officers to retire or quit with very few recruits to take their positions. Many facilities had seen numbers fall in pre-pandemic conditions, but population numbers have grown during the pandemic.
University of Michigan Economist Betsey Stevenson says that risk is one of the larger problems in corrections facilities, leading to fewer people interested in the position. The federal Bureau of Prisons reports that 93% of their positions are filled with about 1,000 or so vacancies, but states like Kansas sit with 400 open jobs and expect more open positions soon.
Once people begin to quit, it puts additional strain on those left behind, creating a snowball effect, as Nebraska Correctional system inspector general Doug Koerbernick says. With fewer correctional officers working, prisoners’ day-to-day operations cease to run smoothly, and inmates see less yard time, no showers, and little access to mental and health care.