Earlier in the year, state corrections officials and the employees union at the Montana State Prison agreed on a new contract, with employees getting a 2$/hour raise. Seen as a way to reverse plummeting staff shortages and even lower morale on account of long hours, mandatory overtime, and unsafe working conditions brought on by these same shortages, this increase brought their starting pay to $18.46/hour and included the promise of further negotiations in order to have a transparent process for airing and resolving grievances when troubles and conflict arose.
It has not been enough.
Aaron Meaders, President of the guard union, said last month 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.”
With the pay increase not having its intended results, public safety chief Jim Anderson said they intend to ask for even more- a necessity needed to attract workers, but also to make the Montana State Prison competitive with other detentions across the state, as currently, they are far behind.
Because the prison is so large and holds some of the worst and most dangerous inmates- being double the size of the next closest jail and six times larger than the one after that- they have operational challenges that these smaller ones don’t, most of which revolve around the transport of high-security prisoners, which frequently require multiple guards to assist.
This prompted the prison to close one of the wings of their facility last month, on account of having no manpower.
It would be one thing if the prison were half-full, but this is not the case. As of two days ago, the prison was only 30 inmates shy of its operational capacity, and a third of the other facilities are over. During COVID the National Guard came to the prisons to assist when things were really bad, and if things get a whole lot worse, they may have to either bring them back or start releasing low-level prisoners early.