by Christopher Zoukis

In December 2012, the Michigan legislature passed a law that would allow up to 250 retired state prison guards to come back to work on a part-time basis and still receive their pension benefits. The bill’s goal was to reduce overtime by current Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) prison guards, afford the prison system enough time to recruit and train new guards, and save the state upwards of $10 million in the 2013 budget.

The problem is that, while the bill passed, there weren’t enough takers. Thus far, a total of 3 retirees returned to work in April 2013, and another 25 are slated to return, but have not yet started. Part of the problem is the “sunset clause,” which places a cap on the amount of time these retired prison guards can come back to work. As the law currently reads, they are only allowed back to work until September 30.

According to state Representative Greg MacMaster, a Republican from Kewadin, the time period is so short due to legislative and administrative delays in enacting and employing the law. He has proposed revising the “sunset clause,” with House Bill 4664. If enacted, this bill would revoke the September cessation and allow retired prison guards to come back to work indefinitely.

Not everyone within the MDOC industrial complex is pleased with the current law. The Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO), the union which represents Michigan prison guards, opposed both the original bill and MacMaster’s proposed expansion of it. Mel Grieshaber, MCO’s executive director, stated that while the MCO appreciates retired prison guards’ desire to come back to work, the MCO feels that allowing retirees to return will cause safety issues through reduced consistency and stability.

As of February 2013, the state projected savings of $3 million in reduced overtime expenditures, but due to the lackluster effect of the law, the MDOC will have to cut costs elsewhere to balance their budget; an amount which reaches $2 billion a year, constituting up to four percent of the state’s $49 billion annual spending. Each month the MDOC loses projected savings of $833,000 due to all of the available retiree slots not being filled. With five percent of the MDOC’s 13,500 employees retiring each year, and payroll consuming 75 percent of the MDOC’s budget, payroll and retention practices are under further legislative review.

HB 4664 passed and was signed into law in September 2013, removing the deadline by which retired guards can return to work for the state.

[Originally published on Prison Legal News]

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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