Crippling staff shortages and plummeting morale at the state prison have led both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, along with the state prison warden, to seek a meeting with Governor Greg Gianforte in order to find a solution to alleviate some of the pressure their industry is facing, warning that the prisons are basically running on fumes and need some relief now.
It was only a few months ago that state corrections officials and the employees union at the Montana State Prison agreed on a new contract, with employees getting a 2$/hour raise. This brought their starting pay to $18.46/hour, with further negotiations creating a smoother and more transparent process for airing and resolving grievances.
The move came after the Federation of Montana State Prison Employees Local 4700 voted last summer to begin the process of striking, voting 60-0, after becoming frustrated with long hours, poor pay, and unsafe working conditions.
Aaron Meaders, President of the guard union, said that while they hired 106 people since last summer, they also lost 166 from attrition and retirement, putting them in an even worse position than they were in before. This also stretched them thinner than ever and guaranteed that the facility has perpetual staff storage of 20%- the people they need for the prison to run smoothly. According to Meaders:
“One of the things championed pretty hard by the DOC leadership is that pay is going to fix all the problems out there. While the $2 raise has helped with recruitment, it has not helped with retention at all.”
Not only do these issues persist, but not one penny of the $2,500,000 earmarked for Coronavirus relief in Montana jails and prisons has been spent yet, despite the state listing a dozen desires on their wish list over a year ago.