Signs draw attention to critical staffing shortage at North Country prison

Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 5:05 PM EDT
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RAY BROOK, N.Y. (WCAX) - Workers at a federal prison in Northern New York facing a critical staffing shortage say they found a new way to grab the community’s attention to alert them to the problem.

Traveling down Route 86 in Ray Brook, New York, you may have noticed a new sign near the federal prison. It reads that staffing is “dangerously low” and asks the community if they feel safe.

“To try and raise awareness that we basically are in a staffing crisis,” said James Davis, who works at the prison and with the prisons union.

Davis says the shortage comes down to pay.

“Right now, somebody can go get a job at Target and start off at the same amount of money they can start off at our prison,” Davis said.

Darrell Pilon is the Local 3882 Union president and says they are struggling with the retention of new recruits. He says goods benefits are no longer something younger hires look at.

“When they can make the same amount of money and or more in a private sector and not be subjected to the conditions that we have working inside of a prison that has international and domestic terrorists, murders, drug kingpins-- I don’t blame them,” Pilon said.

They say the shortage stems from 2016 when 60 officers were cut due to restructuring.

The inmates were cut, too, but have been on the rise.

They currently have 71 guards for the 914 inmates.

Pilon says they should have at least 120 guards.

Because the correctional officers are short-handed, other staff members like Davis, who is an electrical foreman, are being moved from their jobs to work as guards, often being “mandated” to work double shifts.

“So now it’s causing say my job load to not get done, so it’s pushing everyone behind,” Davis said.

They also say the shortage is impacting the inmates because staff are moving from their jobs to guard posts. Pilon says inmates now need to wait for programs like education and sometimes medical needs.

Pilon says the warden has requested retention pay to help the situation that would offer a temporary raise of 25% of the guards’ salary until they reach appropriate staffing levels.

“I do truly believe we won’t be competitive until we can at least secure 25%,” Pilon said.

Pilon says federal prisons across the country are facing similar shortages and the rural nature of the area could be a reason they are not seeing applicants, plus the state prisons in New York offer more pay.

He says the community is safe but he says the Federal Bureau of Prisons won’t do anything unless they hear from staff, inmates or the community, which is why they felt the signs needed to go up.

“Unless staff start complaining and or inmates that things are happening, they won’t do anything,” Pilon said. “They will basically keep sweeping it under the rug.”

STAFFING AT NEW YORK STATE PRISONS

So how many corrections officers are there in New York’s state prisons? The state says there is a total of 15,140.

The Corrections Department says they’ve been able to maintain a ratio of 1 security staff for every 1.8 incarcerated individuals.

We got staffing numbers for state prisons in Clinton and Essex counties.

In Clinton County, Altona Correctional has 153 officers and 154 inmates.

At the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, there are 751 workers with almost 2,000 inmates.

And at Adirondack Correctional in Ray Brook, there are 158 officers overseeing 123 inmates.