Sheriff declares state of emergency as Washtenaw County Jail faces critical staffing shortage

Staffing levels of correctional officers at critical lows

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Washtenaw County sheriff has declared a state of emergency as staffing levels at the jail hit critical lows.

"People are tired," Cmdr. Eric Kunath said. "It's hard to work a double shift. You can only sustain that for so long."

Kunath is in charge of the day-to-day operations at the Washtenaw County Jail, which means the staffing problem is his problem.

Right now, the vacancy level for correctional officers is 23 percent. The acceptable level is just 8 to 10 percent.

Forced overtime is in effect, vacations could be denied and the jail is borrowing resources from the courts.

"This is about not burning out our staff, and they're subject to making an error," Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton said.

In the Washtenaw County Jail, nonviolent inmates live in open areas and aren't locked down for hours on end. But because of staffing levels, lockdowns have been implemented.

"They locked it down until 3 in the afternoon," inmate Richard Jefferson said.

"People are less angry," inmate Christopher Miller said. "Deputies are getting more ornery because of the doubles they have to pull."

Why aren't more corrections officers applying? Many think it's the misconception that officers just watch inmates and break up fights.

The commander said it's the opposite.

"We're not the traditional lock-you -," Kunath said. "We're impacting people's lives and making changes."

The Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office is having a hiring expo for anyone interested in becoming a corrections officer. It will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 18 at the Sheriff's Office, located at 2201 Hogback Road in Ann Arbor.

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