Denver, CO — On Monday, state employees on the front lines in the Department of Corrections pointed to severe understaffing and hazardous working conditions as major factors affecting recidivism rates, during testimony before the Prison Population Management Interim Study Committee.
“Everyone sitting here today believes reforms are needed in Corrections, and state employees like me want to be a resource,” said Eric Olsen, a sergeant at the Department of Corrections. “First and foremost, we need a stable and professional workforce that cares about the successful reintegration of offenders into society. To do this, we need a strong partnership with the state so that our input, our advice, and the solutions we come up with can be of maximum usefulness as we navigate through systemic changes to corrections.”
In her testimony, Colorado WINS Executive Director Hilary Glasgow emphasized the dire need to increase staffing and compensation to ensure the department can attract and retain qualified and dedicated employees.
“It is absolutely critical that in tandem with any program reform, the state directly addresses the staffing crisis we are facing – specifically in DOC,” Glasgow said. “Currently, DOC has to realign staff in a dangerous and unproductive way. Case managers are being asked to teach, and teachers are being asked to cover officer shifts and supervise inmates. As I talked to some of the teachers about this, they consistently said they don’t have the training to capably cover officer shifts, but that they do it anyway because it is DOC’s only option.”
As a teacher at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, Nadine Kerstetter has firsthand experience helping inmates prepare for life outside the detention facility.
“We want to be able to do our best by the people who come through our doors,” Kerstetter said, “but we need the tools necessary to accomplish whatever goals this committee lays out. The higher-than-average recidivism rates in Colorado are linked to the disintegrating numbers of staff. When staffing falls through the cracks, everything follows – including the success rates of the incarcerated population.”
The interim committee focused on various aspects of what drives recidivism and included state legislators, district attorneys, criminal justice reform advocates, and state officials.
Colorado WINS is the union representing nearly 30,000 classified state employees who work to ensure our quality of life in communities across the state.