Outnumbered and exhausted, a Louisiana corrections lieutenant fights for better staffing

Outnumbered and exhausted, a Louisiana corrections lieutenant fights for better staffing

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There are two numbers that begin to describe the crisis that Tammie Latin, a lieutenant at the Louisiana Department of Corrections in Homer, faces: 158 and 1. In any given 12-hour shift, Latin is the one person responsible for the well-being of 158 or more male offenders in her unit.

It wasn’t always this way, Latin says.

“People aren’t getting the training I got when I first started,” says Latin. “I had on-the-job training. Now, they’re teaching you out of the book. But that’s so different from the real thing. We’re just throwing them out into the fray. That leads new recruits to getting scared and quitting. It also means they aren’t getting trained on the human interactions that are so important to our job.”

But there are other numbers that tell the fuller picture of what Latin is up against.


The number of years Latin has been on the job, a job she’s dedicated to and hopes to retire from.

This is National Correctional Officers Week, and AFSCME members salute dedicated professionals like Latin, who serve their communities with dedication despite being short-staffed and overworked.

“COs and corrections employees are being pushed to the brink. Chronic severe staffing shortages make hard jobs nearly impossible and put lives at risk,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a video message. “Let’s do more than thank these everyday heroes. … Let’s make the necessary investments to staff these vital front lines.”

Latin says she studied criminal justice at Northwestern State University, a public university based in Natchitoches, and remains motivated.

“I also want this institution to be better when I leave than when I came,” she says. “Because I’m trying to change it. That’s what keeps me going. I love helping people.”

But improving the David Wade Correctional Center isn’t easy when, according to Latin, short staffing, which started around 2018, has led to a surge of contraband, dangerous conditions both for staff and offenders, and cratering family lives for staff. Latin also points to lack of support and encouragement from management as other reasons for staff attrition.

“Since we are working extra due to short staffing, we don’t have time to spend with our families,” says Latin. “Any given week, I’m maybe off one day. Overtime is mandatory – you have to work on your days off.”

Latin has a 7-year-old daughter who says, “You gotta work momma? Again? We never spend time together!”

2 and 2

Latin has to wake up at 2 a.m. to get her daughter ready for school, then drops her off at her uncle’s, while Latin then drives 2 hours to make it to the prison by 5:45 a.m.

“I am exhausted every day I come in,” says Latin. “Then I have to go pick my daughter up. By the time she gets into bed it’s 9 p.m. We don’t have any time do anything together. The teacher was calling wanting to know why my daughter was always sleeping in class. She’s tired because of the routine my job puts me through.”

While it’s a grueling routine, the forced overtime and the lack of staff at her workplace is pushing Latin to her limits.

“Management doesn’t understand,” says Latin. “Y’all aren’t working seven days a week like we are, and on holidays. Y’all can spend time with your families. [We] can’t. You have the same officers constantly working weekends. It’s not right.”

She feels that if new managers were better trained when they were brought on the job, the situation might improve. And Latin, a member of AFSCME Local 1154 (Council 17), credits her union with making some improvements that have been implemented.

“Every day I go to work, somebody wants to join [the union]. Because they see that we’re working on this issue,” says Latin. “I can just go to the warden and tell him about the issues. He even told me that ‘What you’re doing is good, you’re helping people.’ People see what the union is doing, so they want to join.”

And it’s through her union that Latin intends to turn these numbers around.

Corrections professionals are not the only ones suffering from a staffing crisis. Many public service jobs that were lost during the COVID-19 pandemic still haven’t been filled. This means AFSCME members on the front lines are being forced to do more with less.

That’s why AFSCME launched Staff the Front Lines to address these public service worker shortages. AFSCME members across the country are working to recruit professionals to fill these jobs, bringing relief to front-line workers and making sure communities continue to receive the quality public services they need and deserve.