Hiring events at state prisons aims to boost officer ranks

June 15, 2019 GMT

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota is holding employment fairs at maximum-security prisons with the aim of allaying potential applicants’ safety concerns and expediting the hiring process, after the Legislature promised the state Department of Corrections $10 million to boost recruitment and retain staff.

The department set itself a target of hiring 78 new officers, including 67 this year, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

Correctional facilities at Stillwater and Oak Park Heights hosted the events, and they are desperate for new recruits following a rash of inmate violence in recent years.


“There’s no doubt there is risk in this work. And staffing will in fact help us to mitigate and minimize some of that risk,” said Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell. “Not all of it. We will never remove all of it.”

The Corrections Department has recorded 817 disciplinary incidents involving inmates assaulting staff since mid-2012, including in July last year, when a Stillwater inmate beat and stabbed an officer to death.

Before the fairs, Minnesota had 1,969 correctional officers overseeing more than 9,300 inmates in 10 facilities, with 40 vacancies.

“Staffing has been a struggle for us solidly for at least the last 18 to 24 months,” said Capt. Mark Maslonkowski, who runs the jail in Stearns County. “We have struggled significantly to find and retain qualified staff. It’s an industry problem.”

The employment fairs were designed to expedite the hiring process. Applicants hand over their resumes, take assessments, sit for interviews and tour the facility.

“In the past, it could take weeks, if not months, for somebody who applied for a corrections officer job to be hired,” he said. “Today, we think we’ve got it to the point where we think we can turn that in a matter of days — 72 hours, five days — to make somebody an offer.”

Lt. Nick Witter, a veteran guard at Oak Park Heights, said holding the hiring events at the prisons make sense.

“People think maximum security and they have these visions of movies and what you see in the media,” Witter said. “And all the sudden they come in, and they’re like, ‘Man, this place is clean. Wow, it’s quiet. Wow, it’s just what I expected.’ It’s kind of a culture shock for them.”

Greg Thompson, a truck driver from Ellsworth, Wisconsin, attended the event at Stillwater. He said he wanted to find a new role and purpose.

“I need to choose a career path that is a little more fulfilling for myself,” he said.


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org