Minnesota DOC looks to add officers amid wave of prison assaults

A shortage of corrections officers in state prisons continues to be a challenge for the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Commissioner Paul Schnell told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS his agency is doing all it can to close that employment gap.

Schnell said the DOC is authorized to have 2,100 officers in its correctional facilities across the state, but the agency can be short anywhere between 200 and 300 officers on any given day due to the shortage, which includes illnesses, vacations and extended leave.

The DOC has tried to increase pay to entice more hires, Schnell said, but it hasn’t panned out as hoped.

“They could get bonuses as high as $10,000 to come and work here,” Schnell said. “You got half of that in one year and the second half at the end of year two, but we found half those people leave before they collect that first payment.”

According to the DOC, there have been eight assaults on prison guards since March 1, and the majority of them were at high-security facilities in Oak Park Heights and Stillwater.

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In fiscal year 2020, which was part of the pandemic years, there were 19 assaults against correctional officers statewide. By the end of fiscal year 2022, that number nearly doubled to 37. So far in fiscal year 2023, there have been 22 assaults.

Schnell said the staffing shortage means there is less opportunity for inmates to receive the type of programs they need to help keep them and prison staff safe.

“Nothing happens in a prison without having a security staff,” Schnell said. “We know that not having people involved in programming and not being active, idle makes things worse. It makes the facilities less safe.”