Montana State Prison in need of correctional officers


DEER LODGE, Mont. - Montana State Prison Officials need to fill 65 openings. Until they do, guards are working mandatory double shifts and being called in on their days off to cover shifts. It is so bad that in May, the prison eliminated two visitation days because there weren't enough workers to staff them. Montana State Prison Captain Scott McNeil led us through the prison gates. "It's been going on the past couple of years and it's continuing to grow bigger and bigger," said McNeil. McNeil is talking about the decreasing number of workers. The prison is down 65 correctional officers, which means officers are required to work 16 hours overtime a week and come on their days off. "It's getting to the point where it's getting to be scary around here, as far as I'm concerned," said McNeil. McNeil said he can see the correctional officers that work behind the Montana State Prison fences are becoming more exhausted and taking more sick days because of the shortage in staff. "When you start getting tired and fatigued in this job, you start not thinking correctly," said McNeil. "Which affects the safety of the officers which affects the safety of the inmates, and the general public." Prison Warden Leroy Kirkegard said he's known about the problem since 2012. That's when he went to the legislature and asked for help. "We've posted in newspapers throughout the state and entire region actually -- Wyoming, Idaho, attendance at job fairs," he said. Kirkegard said that's not enough. He's competing with other detention centers, the Bakken and mining jobs that pay more. He is raising officers' $13.50 an hour starting wage by 5 percent this November. We did the math, that's an increase of less than $1 an hour. So the officers' union is working with the prison to find a solution, but right now times are tough. "I'm extremely proud of all the people that are working here," said Kirkegard. "And that's the support staff all the way up to the correction officers and management team." "People are stepping up to the plate and everyone in DOC is doing what they can to make everything work the best they possibly can and as safe as we possibly can," said McNeil. "We have an issue and it needs to be corrected." There's no timeline for when the prison will be at full staff again. Prison staffing representatives have plans to attend job fairs, and they're also utilizing social media to help recruit employees. The Montana State Prison has become re-accredited through the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. The prison met all 68 standards with no recorded deficiencies. Standards range from administrative meetings, to timely patient care, to cleanliness of the clinic area. The prison was accredited for the first time in 2011 and needs to be re-accredited every three years. "It carries over into the community," said Assistant Director of Nursing Heidi Abbott. "That we all live in and that we love and so it helps to improve the health care of the inmates, not only when they're incarcerated, but after they are out in our communities." The prison will need to go through the accreditation process and inspection again in 2017.

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