In an effort to address a shortage of guards and reduce overtime costs, the Vermont Department of Corrections announced on Wednesday that security staff at the state’s six prisons will begin working 12-hour shifts next month.

Commissioner Nick Deml says up to 25% of security positions across the DOC are vacant. The new plan calls for security staff to begin working 12-hour shifts with five days on, two days off before moving to seven days on, seven days off.

“The reason I think that should be our goal is that enables staff to have the maximum number of days off, where they could spend time with family, spend time with friends, decompress from the hard work they do in our facilities,” said Deml.

The longer shifts are already in place on an emergency basis at the Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury and the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield.

“And we have seen over the last few months how successful that has been,” Deml said. “Staff morale is up, recruitment is up, we are rehiring folks that have left the system.”

When “emergency” staffing changes were announced for Springfield last month, Steve Howard, executive director of the Vermont State Employees’ Association, called it “cruel and inhumane”.

“It’s very frustrating for our members,” Howard said. “It’s heartbreaking to listen to them, they are exhausted, their families are exhausted, and they are hearing from inmates that the inmates are concerned they won’t be able to be protected from the staff or the exhaustion from the staff, something bad is going to happen.”

Meanwhile, Jacob Larose, a correctional officer in St. Johnsbury, said he actually enjoys the 12-hour shifts.

“You know what you are dealing with for the day,” he said. “A lot better than guessing, when you are going to leave for that day or when you are going to have to show up the next day. It keeps things a lot more consistent for planning purposes.”

The change in shifts will take effect at the other four facilities starting August 28. The DOC said the new staffing plan calls for pay increases for security staff, as well as incentives for workers to refer potential new employees to the department.