In a novel approach to address staffing shortages in its prisons, Missouri has established special mobile units of correctional officers. These units are designed to bolster staffing levels at the state’s 19 correctional facilities.
Travis Terry, Director of the Division of Adult Institutions with the Missouri Department of Corrections, detailed the initiative. Officers in these mobile units are accommodated in hotels, reimbursed for transportation or mileage, and provided meals.
“There are regions in Missouri where prisons face significant staffing challenges. Conversely, there are areas where, for various reasons, we maintain near-full staffing. Recognizing this disparity, we decided to mobilize officers from well-staffed institutions to those grappling with shortages,” Terry explained.
The flexible nature of these units means officers might serve at one prison for one week and be assigned to a different facility the following week.
Terry emphasized the importance of adequate staffing in maintaining morale and ensuring the safety of both staff and inmates. “When a prison is short by a significant number of staff, it becomes challenging to maintain morale and provide essential rehabilitation services. Proper staffing ensures more vigilant monitoring and reduces the strain on officers, leading to a safer environment for everyone,” he said.
The work schedules for officers in these mobile units vary. Some follow a traditional Monday through Friday routine, while others work for seven consecutive days and then get a week off. “These predictable schedules are attractive because they differ from the varied hours and shifts typical in our institutions. Officers in mobile units have clarity about their workdays and off days,” Terry added.
Additionally, officers serving in these mobile units earn a higher wage compared to their counterparts stationed permanently at one location.
Addressing concerns about the costs associated with this initiative, Terry said, “While there are expenses related to transportation, accommodation, and meals, they pale in comparison to the potential human cost. The primary objective is the safety and security of our institutions. The real cost is if we lose a life.”
Terry confirmed that the department is actively recruiting for these mobile units and other positions within the prison system.