Springfield, VT — The Vermont Department of Corrections has instituted an “emergency” staffing change at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, where employees have been working sixty-hour shifts due to staffing shortages.

Commissioner Nicholas Deml said staff will move from five 8-hour shifts a week, with occasional mandatory overtime, to five 12-hour shifts. Deml said 20-25% of security positions across the DOC are vacant.

“The goal of that is to create more staff resources so we have the resources necessary to sustain that facility during the summer months, which are typically our hardest staffing period, due to illnesses, vacation, and other things of that nature,” Deml said.

Justin Nowicki, a correctional officer at the Northeast Correctional Complex, is used to twelve-hour shifts and says that they offer consistency. “Before we were on eight-hour shifts but eight hours was never actually eight hours. We were constantly doing twelve-hour shifts, or twelve with an eight-hour turn around into another 12 or 16.”

Nowicki acknowledges people in other facilities might not feel the same way that he does. “I personally work the first shift so I get out at 6 pm every day, which is great for my lifestyle. I make it home and eat dinner with my family.”

Meanwhile, Steve Howard, executive director of the Vermont State Employees’ Association, calls the changes in Springfield “cruel and inhuman.”

“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.”

Howard says government officials need to take action before it’s too late. “There is no investment in the men and women who are holding his crumbling system together; there is no commitment to that.”

Deml says they are seeing an uptick in recruiting. An academy class graduated last Friday with 20 new cadets, he said.