Wisconsin Considers Correctional Shift Changes
(07/30/2014)

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin lawmakers may expand 12-hour work shifts for correctional officers to a second state correctional institution. After successfully moving from eight-hour to 12-hour shifts at the medium-security Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution, Gov. Scott Walker is now considering the new schedule for Redgranite Correctional Institution, also a medium-security facility.

The shift change proposal has received some negative feedback from Redgranite correctional staff, whose primary concern is finding childcare providers who will cover such long shifts, as well as being available for after-school activities. However, a survey of Prairie du Chien correctional officers conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections found that a majority favored the shift switch. Sixty percent of respondents believed that the shift change had proven to be a personal money saver, while nearly 70 percent reported it offered them more time to spend with family and friends. Almost 80 percent added that balancing work and personal lives was made easier by fewer, longer shifts.

Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution adopted the longer shifts to help study how they would affect the Department of Corrections' budget and operations, as well as employee morale, reported the Journal Sentinel. Under this work arrangement, correctional officers work 12-hour shifts beginning at either 6:00 a.m. or 6:00 p.m. three days for one week, and four days the following week, improving efficiency and reducing overtime costs.

The paper reports that an additional review showed that roughly $950,000 could be saved annually at the Waupun Correctional Institution by making the same shift switch. However, this outcome could only be accomplished with all correctional positions filled. As a number of correctional facilities across the state currently have unfilled officer and sergeant positions, it is unclear whether or not the shift change would be effective in lowering overtime and officer training costs.

Employees working 12-hour shifts generally enjoy a more condensed and predictable schedule, spend less time commuting, display a higher level of enthusiasm for their jobs and may request less sick leave, said Diane Matthew Brown, health and safety specialist with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), in a 2012 statement. However, Brown added that worker fatigue can become a factor in longer shifts, which are often more difficult for older staff or those with medical restrictions.

Wisconsin is hardly the first state to consider a broader move to 12-hour work shifts. Several states including Indiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Ohio have embraced the practice across at least some of their correctional facilities, and Florida and California also have considered the change.

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