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Staffing shortage led to assault on officer, Department of Corrections says

Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, Montana
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Montana Department of Corrections
Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, Montana

State corrections officials say a staffing shortage has led to the assault of a female sergeant at the Montana State Prison.

Montana Department of Corrections Director Brian Gootkin told lawmakers this week that almost 18 percent, or 59 correctional officer positions are unfilled at the state prison in Deer Lodge.

Gootkin showed the interim Law and Justice Committee photos of a bruised and scratched female sergeant who was assaulted by an inmate earlier this week.

“Because we did not have adequate staffing, she was by herself. The offender knew that and took advantage of it.”

Gootkin says the starting wage of about $16 an hour for correctional officers is at the root of the staffing shortage and he hopes to negotiate a pay raise for employees if the state budget office approves. A union president for state prison employees agreed pay is a problem.

The department is estimating the staffing shortage will lead to mandatory overtime pay for officers, costing almost a million dollars more than its overtime budget. Gootkin says the shortage also means restricted yard time for inmates.

Shaylee began covering state government and politics for Montana Public Radio in August 2020. Originally from Belgrade, Montana, she graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program and previously worked as a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and UM’s Legislative News Service. Please share tips, questions and concerns by emailing shaylee.ragar@mso.umt.edu.