Teachers, social workers taking security shifts in Colorado prisons as 28% vacancy rate fuels staffing crisis

The staffing shortage means corrections officers are working 16-hour double shifts more than once a week

Elise Schmelzer
The Denver Post
The Buena Vista Correctional Complex.
RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

BUENA VISTA — Paul Brackmann had worked as a teacher for 25 years, including stints as a principal and assistant principal, and was looking for a slightly different opportunity when he took a job as a teacher at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex.

He loved his work teaching GED classes and cognitive therapy to people incarcerated in the 1,200-bed facility. This winter, however, staffing shortages at the complex meant Brackmann was pulled in to work corrections officer shifts. He manned hallways and housing units, keeping an eye out for trouble. Now, he spends a quarter of his work week on a security shift. His classes are falling behind.

“It’s all wrong,” said Brackmann, speaking as a member of the Colorado WINS union. “I’m a teacher. Teachers shouldn’t be doing that.”

More than a quarter of the approximately 8,000 jobs in the Colorado Department of Corrections are vacant as the prisons struggle to recruit and retain corrections officers, teachers, social workers and health care providers.

The staffing shortage means some corrections officers are working 16-hour double shifts more than once a week. Social workers and teachers are taking security shifts, reducing the amount of time they have for their actual duties, like leading GED classes and helping people incarcerated get into halfway houses. That leads to frustration among inmates and staff alike.


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