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To improve prison safety, DOC commissioner says changes will affect officers' work schedules

May 28, 2019 10:30 PM

Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner, Paul Schnell, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he intends to make more than 2,000 corrections officers work a mandatory 10 to 12-hour workdays to improve prison safety.

"This is a very difficult decision to make," said Schnell. "But, it has to be done. It has to be done for the safety and well-being or our staff and for the offenders in our correctional facilities."

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Right now, most corrections officers work anywhere from 8 to 10-hour shifts. But, Schnell's plan would increase those shifts to 10 and 12-hour workdays depending on need and type of correctional facility.

RELATED: Minnesota Department of Corrections to hire 78 new corrections officers statewide

"It would be irresponsible not to act and we are facing some tough issues right now," said Schnell.

KSTP obtained a copy of a letter Schnell wrote to union leaders at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, (AFSCME) Council 5, which is the union representing the corrections officers.

In his letter, Schnell said, "We struggle to keep up with the demands caused by retirements and resignations."  And, Schnell added, "I feel compelled to act."

Schnell said the longer workdays would spread out more officers over longer workdays giving the DOC more overall coverage of shifts while preserving the same number of days off for each Correctional Officer.

"We are in a position where, if we want to make, and ultimately take action to make things safer, then we have to take some actions that might be popular with everyone."

RELATED: Minnesota corrections commisioner wants $44 million for 120 new officers statewide

KSTP reached out to AFSCME Council 5 representatives for comment, but there has not yet been a response.

Schnell told KSTP union leaders have indicated to him that they intend to challenge his authority to make unilateral changes to workday schedules.

"It is my understanding they will legally challenge this under the collective bargaining contract they have with the state," said Schnell. "They do not agree with me and I think I do have the clear authority to do this, but it might have to be decided through arbitration."

Schnell's proposed work schedule changes are set to take effect in late August.

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Jay Kolls

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