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Short-staffed prisons turn to bonuses, TikTok videos to attract new guards

One in four jobs in DOC is currently vacant.

DENVER — The TikToks probably aren't going viral anytime soon, but the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) wants people to see them and apply for jobs. The agency is desperate for workers to staff prisons and hopes the online videos will tap into a new pool of job applicants.

The department is short 1,756 workers -- more than 25% of its positions, a spokesperson said. The staffing situation is so dire, teachers and social workers in prisons are taking shifts as guards

"We’re past the point where it can become dangerous and it is dangerous," said Hilary Glasgow, the executive director of Colorado WINS, which represents prison guards. 

Besides the TikTok videos, the Department of Corrections announced retention and recruitment bonuses for staff. Current correctional officers (and the non-guard staff who are filling the roles) will receive $4,000. They can also receive $2,000 for referring employees and new correctional officers can receive up to nearly $10,000 in bonus and moving money. 

"I would not throw any shade at DOC for doing their best to try to recruit," Glasgow said. "Whatever we have to do to resolve the situation of getting people in the door, awesome. Do it. TikToks, Instagram, whatever you need to do, lets get them in there. But it is more important to keep them there once we get them there." 

She argues the bonuses and the TikTok videos are not enough. Instead, the department should be examining higher salaries and better benefits for workers. 

"What we really need to be working on is structural pay reform that’s going to keep people working in the prisons," she said. "Our problem isn’t necessarily getting people in the door – it’s keeping people once they come."

DOC said recruits have gone to job fairs and community events, in additional to increased social media presence on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. A spokesperson said since May, DOC has hired 170 entry-level correctional officers — a drop in the bucket of the 1,756 it still needs. 

"We understand the urgent need to staff up the prisons. It’s been urgent for a long time," Glasgow said.

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