- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is implementing a new overtime policy as it deals with a shortage of prison guards.

Corrections officials say overtime will be assigned on a rotation system instead of forcing the newest officers to work those shifts when no one else has volunteered. Veteran guards and sergeants will now be assigned overtime, the Journal Sentinel (https://bit.ly/1XmwP4Y ) reports.

Corrections Secretary Ed Wall recently put the policy into effect, saying it will make prisons safer and would be fairer to all guards. Wall in a memo said it would cut down on fatigue caused by multiple days of overtime for some employees.

“This is about spreading the work across a larger pool of people to lighten the load for everyone,” Wall wrote in his memo.

Wisconsin prisons are facing severe staff shortages, with one in 10 security positions open as of Oct. 31, according the Department of Corrections. The problem was worst at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, with roughly 20 percent of jobs unfilled as of August according to a Legislative Audit Bureau review.

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said the new policy will drive away employees. He and many officers argue that employees would stick around if they were paid more, given more training and treated better.

“This policy is going to do the opposite of what they want it to do,” Erpenbach said. “People will quit.”

Paul Mertz, an officer at Redgranite Correctional Institution, said the new overtime policy is hurting morale. Veteran employees feel likely they shouldn’t be tapped for overtime because they did that early in their careers, and Mertz said newer staffers no longer have a time to look forward to when they’ll work less overtime.

Wall said in the memo that the overtime policy would be re-evaluated when the department’s job vacancy rate falls to 6 percent.

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Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, https://www.jsonline.com

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