When Heather Malloy could not face another 16-hour workday at the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, she paid a coworker $20 per shift to take her mandatory overtime assignments. When her adult son commented on her drinking alone at the end of yet another understaffed shift, she decided to quit. In July, after 18 years as a correctional officer, Malloy joined an exodus of 25 workers monthly who have been leaving jobs at the city jail complex, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Some were midcareer workers who had envisioned staying through retirement. They quit amid what they described as a mounting mental-health and public safety crisis. Several experienced panic attacks on the job, and are taking prescription antianxiety medications. Others cited physical illness they believed resulted from the stress of long hours and unsafe staffing levels. Malloy now works for a school district. Her husband, who also quit the jails, took a job in the state prison system.
The jails have lost about 500 corrections staff during the pandemic. In that same time period, only 143 new recruits were added. In June, City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart raised an alarm when the jails were 382 workers short, “a tipping point” she said required urgent attention. Rhynhart’s office says the shortfall has grown to 582 staffers, putting the jails 31 percent below the city-approved deployment plan. Prisons nationwide are short-staffed. In states including Georgia, Nebraska, and Florida, correctional officer shortages have grown dire and even caused prisons to shut down, The Associated Press and The Marshall Project reported. Philadelphia Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney said that, “COVID-19 has created challenges with both hiring and retention as long-term employees and potential new hires are opting to pursue other professions that offer the option of working from home or in less-challenging environments.,” Her department, which houses 4,400 people across five prison facilities, “continues to aggressively pursue qualified applicants required to ensure that our facilities are as safe as possible.”