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Mich. ups prison officer training to offset retirements

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan’s corrections director will welcome 292 new recruits Wednesday in Lansing in the state’s first training acadmy in more than a year, part of a beefed-up effort to offset a growing list of vacancies created by retirements.

Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz said the goal is to train 1,000 new officers per year, or 3,000 in a three-year period, because the department is losing about 70 veteran officers to retirement each month.

For more than a year, the department tried filling vacancies with graduates of community college-based training programs. While it’s not abandoning the college effort, Gautz said, the department has gone back to state-paid academies to speed up hiring for the sprawling statewide system.

Corrections Director Dan Heyns will speak at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Michigan State Police Academy on the west side of Lansing. All new recruits already are assigned to prisons in the Lower Peninsula, according to Gautz.

Training of 54 additional officers began March 16 at an Upper Peninsula academy held in the mothballed but soon-to-reopen Hiawatha Correctional Facility at Kincheloe, between St. Ignace and Sault Ste. Marie. Gautz said all of its graduates will work in U.P. prisons.

To graduate, recruits must complete eight weeks of classes and eight weeks of on-the-job training.

“We also can announce our next round of academies will begin June 8 at Hiawatha and on June 22 at the Michigan State Police Academy,” Gautz said. “We are looking to fill 60 spots for the Hiawatha academy and another 300 at the one that takes place at the Michigan State Police site.”

Mel Grieshaber, leader of the union representing corrections officers, welcomed the return of state academies. He recently told The Detroit News that officers in some prisons are logging prodigious amounts of overtime because there are hundreds of corrections officer openings.

Grieshaber, retiring executive director of the Service Employees International Union-affiliated Michigan Corrections Organization, said he likes the “esprit de corps” created among officers who take the paramilitary-style training. It prepares them to rely on each other when they work in the tough prison environment, he said.

“That’s an intangible that often gets undervalued,” Grieshaber said.

GHeinlein@detroitnews.com