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Inmate privileges are cut and staff is burned out due to staffing shortage; the union calls it a 'powder keg.'

PMG FILE PHOTO - Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese says his department is doing what it can to address a staffing storage. One union says it's not enough.Multnomah County Sheriff's corrections deputies are putting in repeated 12-hour days, and staff shortages mean that people in custody at times are being locked in their cells without the customary privileges of stepping out to stretch their legs and socialize.

That's what a union representing corrections deputies says in an Aug. 22 letter to Sheriff Mike Reese, who heads the agency. The letter said the union members overwhelmingly approved a vote of no confidence in Reese's Human Resources Director, Jennifer Grogan, calling it "a last resort to protect our members."

Corrections deputies are being forced to work mandatory overtime day after day.

"They have been working 12-hour shifts on a daily basis with no hope of respite," the letter said. "Burnout is rampant, and morale is at an all-time low."

It's signed by Mark Bunnell, president of the Multnomah County Corrections Deputies Association.

Reese's public relations unit did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

The letter says the situation is hurting safety at the county's jails. It questions MCSO hiring and working conditions, saying that sheriff's deputies are leaving for other agencies after less than five years. It says that when the union's board "brought up concerns about staffing over the past few years, we have been met with the same excuses." It called for "new solutions, be they from a drastic shift in HR's hiring practices or from a change in leadership to someone who will do what it takes to stem the tide of departing staff."

Burnell said the situation is exacerbated by the number of deputies going out on COVID-19 quarantine.

It all is contributing to a "powder keg" of unhappy inmates and overworked deputies, he added.

Inmates "all basically have to be celled in, in their cells or on their bunks, because we're having to close so many (deputy) posts down. That doesn't make them happy … they're getting upset about losing (privileges such as) walk time, or watching time TV or showering … it gets worse and worse, and we're not seeing any help from above."

Matt Ferguson, head of a different union, the Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff's Association, said the situation is bad on the law enforcement side of the agency as well.

"It was already hard to recruit and retain employees and now it's even harder," he said. "The protests, the rioting, the lack of political and public support that was perceived and real, has made it real difficult to retain people here and recruit people here."

In a recent email to staff, Reese said he is stepping up efforts to recruit new staff.

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