TOPEKA (KSNT) – Understaffing has always been an issue for guards in detention centers, but since the pandemic, the issue has only worsened.
The pandemic, the overtime, the time away from families and the mental health effects have deterred people from working at correctional facilities. At Shawnee County Jail, they have felt these effects for a while.
“Everybody’s tired but on top of being exhausted from working so many hours, ” said Sgt. Caitlyn Ross, “It’s now the workload because you’re now working for other officers because we don’t have them.”
The department currently has 120 officers working but is budgeted for 180 workers. This means that they have 60 vacancies, which is 50% of the workers they have on staff right now.
“How do you market this as a career?” said Director Brian Cole. “It’s very tough. A lot of people use this to go onto jobs in probation, parole and law enforcement…which I am happy with, and I want them there, but this is a tough profession to market for.”
This is not an issue specific to Shawnee County, either. Correctional facilities across the nation are feeling the effects of understaffing. The Associated Press reported a correctional director in Idaho says “there are about 180 vacant positions statewide”. The article also mentions 16-hour work shifts that the employees are sometimes required to work, which Sgt. Ross confirmed in an interview.
“I constantly try to keep the people motivated about the job,” said Cpl. William Hopper. “I try to encourage them and let them understand this is just a storm we’re going through and it’s not just our facility it’s across the land.”
Regardless of the downsides understaffing brings, the staff at the Shawnee County Department of Corrections remain positive and work to stay motivated.
“It’s all about the team it’s never about one individual person ever–it’s all about the team,” said Cpl. Hopper.
The Shawnee County Department of Corrections asks that if you see a worker while you’re out in the town, take the time to thank them for their hard work and protection, as it mostly goes unrecognized.
The Department is also accepting applications at this time, and the only three requirements to fill it out are you must be 21 years old, have no felony convictions and have a valid Kansas ID.