By KATIE MORELL
Capital News Service
LANSING — There is no need to feel unsafe because 600 people in the Michigan Department of Corrections are taking early retirement, officials say.
Some people are worried that the retirements will put their security and safety at risk. But that’s not the case, according to Russ Marlan, public information officer for the Department of Corrections.
The corrections department is “only losing two percent of its employees,” he said.
Statewide, “we are losing just over 600 people,” Marlan said. “But with these losses, safety and security shouldn’t be threatened.”
“Our first and foremost priority is safety and security,” Marlan said. “We’ve been losing people department-wide since July 1, but that isn’t having an adverse effect on us.”
The department will fill the front-line positions first, like parole officers, she said.
Kelly Chesney, director of communications at the Office of State Budget, said she doesn’t think the early retirement will raise security risks either.
“It is a win-win situation for folks who have served for a long period of time,” Chesney said. “And most of our replacements are going into the front-line jobs, so security is not something to worry about.”
The state retirement plan, which grants state employees early retirement between the dates of July 1 and Nov. 1, is in effect right now for the 8,000 state employees who qualify.
To qualify, one has to have a number of years that adds up to 80. For example, if one has worked 30 years and is 50 years old, he or she may be eligible, along with other qualifications.
The corrections department is also “putting positions together,” Marlan said. In other words, some jobs are being combined until positions are filled, he said.
“We are losing a lot of staff,” said Margaret Topham, administrative assistant at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer.
The early retirees are mostly supervisors and administrative staffers, not the front-line staff, because they have a different retirement plan, he said.
“It’s been a concern,” Topham said. “But we are doing a lot of cross-training.”
The 24-hour operational facility with about 1,200 prisoners and 400 staffers, is temporarily putting people in acting positions to learn the jobs of those people they may replace, she said. This is “time consuming,” she said.
But there may be light at the end of the tunnel, Marlan said.
It’s called technology.
For example, with the Department of Corrections, if a person needs to meet with a hearings officer, he or she can do so with television conferencing. This is also possible for meeting among administrators of the department, saving time and travel costs.
This technology “is a great thing,” but it isn’t designed to eliminate any jobs as of now, Marlan said.
Even though State Police Posts have not been affected by the early retirement plan, the Motor Carrier Department has lost a few employees, but insists it is having no effect on security.
“We are not being affected too greatly,” said Sgt. Patrick Morris, who oversees Motor Carrier Department operations in Flint, Bridgeport and Lapeer. “The State Police is not being adversely affected.”
This division of the Motor Carrier Department is only losing one person, Orrie Smith, and the position will be filled as soon as he leaves, Morris said.
Smith, a 31-year veteran of the Lapeer State Police Post in the Motor Carrier Department, is taking his retirement at the end of this month.
The program is “kind of nice,” especially because it offers the same life-long health coverage and benefits, as “offered to an active employee,” Smith said.
An information program earlier this year convinced him that it is “more beneficial for me to retire now than in four years.”
When asked what he plans to do in retirement, Smith said, “I will take time off, enjoy it, and then go from there.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By KATIE MORELL