Michigan House Republicans
Rep. Lightner calls for MDOC director’s resignation over prison staffing crisis
RELEASE|July 9, 2024

Director Washington has failed to address dangerous corrections officer shortage

State Rep. Sarah Lightner today called for the immediate resignation of Michigan Department of Corrections Director Heidi Washington, citing Washington’s failure to address severe staffing shortages and dangerous working conditions for corrections officers during her nearly 10 years in charge of the department.

“We’ve seen a net loss of corrections officers every single year for the last six years, putting our corrections officers who remain on the job in an increasingly dangerous situation,” Lightner said. “Despite the evident crisis, Director Washington has failed to implement a plan to address the critical staffing shortages, which has resulted in severe low morale, depression, anxiety, and fear among our dedicated corrections officers. The lack of effective leadership is directly undermining the mental health and wellbeing of those who put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe. Our officers, and our state, deserve better. It is time for Director Washington to resign.”

The Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO), the union representing Michigan’s corrections officers, reports that prison guards are frequently forced to work mandatory 16-hour shifts. The Department of Corrections currently employs roughly 5,500 officers to oversee nearly 33,000 felons across 26 facilities. Nearly half of these prisons are experiencing staff vacancy rates exceeding 20%, with five facilities facing vacancy rates over 30%, according to the MCO.

MCO President Byron Osborn describes dangerous working conditions, including unsafe prisoner-to-officer ratios, demoralizing mandatory overtime requirements, and lax prisoner discipline policies that lead to inmates being “coddled at the expense of officer safety.”

“While there have been several changes aimed at improving inmate programming over the past decade, no progress has been made to relieve the pressure the staffing crisis is putting on corrections officers,” Lightner said. “The director’s inability to prioritize the safety of our officers over perks for the inmates is misguided and wrong.”

In a recent letter, the MCO called on the governor to activate the Michigan National Guard to address the hazardous working conditions. Gov. Whitmer has yet to acknowledge the request. Meanwhile, the new state budget she negotiated with Democrats in the Legislature eliminates the $12 million previously set aside to provide signing and retention bonuses to help address the staffing shortage.

Lightner said the governor must prioritize the staffing crisis and implement sustainable, long-term solutions. That includes replacing Washington, who is part of Whitmer’s administration, with a new director committed to delivering results.

“Corrections officers are unsung heroes in the first responder world, and they deserve better than being mandated to work 16-hour shifts multiple times a week, which strains their mental health and takes a heavy toll on their families,” Lightner said. “We must demand more from our leaders and hold them accountable for their failures. It is time for Director Washington to resign and make way for leadership that truly values and supports our corrections officers.”

Lightner, whose constituents include many corrections officers, has been working closely with them since taking office, bringing attention to the staffing crisis through direct communications with the MDOC and during public hearings of the House’s corrections subcommittee. In 2023, she sent a letter to the Michigan Auditor General’s office requesting a review of staffing shortages and other alleged violations of federal and state labor regulations within the Michigan Department of Corrections. An investigation is ongoing.


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