- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Strong competition for workers is making it difficult to hire and retain enough guards to adequately staff the state’s biggest prisons, Nebraska officials say.

Low staffing levels and excessive overtime were factors in last spring’s riot at the Tecumseh prison, and filling positions there and at the state prison in Lincoln continues to be a challenge.

Dawn Renee Smith with the state Department of Correctional Services told the Lincoln Journal Star (bit.ly/1POeUpU) the state’s low unemployment and strong economy are part of the problem.

Last year, the turnover rate among protective services staff increased two percentage points to nearly 31 percent. But overtime hours are decreasing across the department, Smith said.

Mike Marvin, executive director of Nebraska’s public employees union, said he doesn’t think staffing levels are adequate.

Corrections officers at Tecumseh continue working 12-hour shifts, although they are now working only four days a week instead of five.

“But every person is, at minimum, working eight hours of overtime a week, and then many are volunteering for more than that,” Marvin said. “They feel a responsibility to their coworkers and to the institution to make sure that all of the staff is safe.”

Guards at the penitentiary are working even more overtime, Marvin said.

Marvin also said the state corrections jobs aren’t competitive with jail jobs in Douglas and Lancaster counties, which pay $2 to $3 more an hour. Entry-level corrections officers generally make a little over $15 an hour for their high-pressure jobs.

Another challenge is that the Tecumseh prison is in a rural area roughly an hour away from Omaha and Lincoln where there isn’t a large pool of potential workers.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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