In January the Department of Corrections told legislators the Montana State Prison lacked 59 of the 328 correctional officers needed at the Montana State Prison and over the months that figure has not gotten better, causing the prison to shut down one of its units last week for the first time in 30 years.

Citing security concerns, the department did not say how many incarcerated individuals were impacted by the closure of the F unit or how many inmates the unit was meant to house. For those displaced by the closure, a DOC spokesperson said “were moved to other units within MSP based on their individual risks and needs” including those enrolled in the prison’s sex offender program.

“As reported by the DOC to the Interim Budget Committee in February, about 20 percent of 328 correctional officer staff positions at MSP are unfilled at any given time,” DOC spokesperson Carolynn Bright said in an email.

The state prison, outside of Deer Lodge, is a 1,600 person men’s prison. And by shutting down the F unit, Bright said, it decreases the number of mandatory posts required on each shift, thus easing staffing pressures, and she said the unit will be closed until staffing levels improve.

“The DOC cares about the well-being of its staff and has been seeking innovative ways to alleviate the strain on MSP employees. The closure of F-Unit was a new concept that made sense for the facility at this time,” Bright said.

The department did not go into detail about how it plans to increase staff at the prison to avoid unit closures in the future. But, Bright pointed to a new contract between the department and correctional officers at the prison that included a $2-per-hour raise as a way it is increasing retention at the prison.

And to address the problem in the short-term, Bright said, “voluntary and mandatory overtime shifts are in place to ensure the safety and security of staff and inmates at the facility.”