AFSCME alleges unsafe staffing levels in prisonsby Sasha Aslanian, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The union representing about 1,900 prison guards at Minnesota's nine correctional facilities is alleging state budget cuts have led to unsafe staffing levels.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 5 said staffing ratios haven't kept up with the growing inmate population, and cuts to programming have left inmates agitated and idle. The union pointed to incidents such as a May fight that broke out in Stillwater maximum security prison involving 70 inmates.
Tim Henderson of AFSCME Council 5 said tensions are running high.
"When you promise an inmate that they're going to have yard time and recreation time and you take that away at the last minute because of short staffing, that incites the inmates and gets them upset," Henderson said.
But the state has added correction officers and conditions are safe, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Shari Burt.
"We've had reductions to our budget like every state agency, but we've made those reductions without reducing our correctional officer complement and we are not going to reduce essential services like that," Burt said.
Burt said Minnesota averages one guard for every five inmates. Nationally, it's much lower, with one guard for every eight inmates.
AFSCME Council 5 has endorsed Democrat Mark Dayton in the governor's race.