More than 25 percent of jobs at the Utah State Prison are unfilled, putting loads of overtime on employees and even forcing the warden to wear a uniform to keep watch on inmates.
''We're on the verge of crisis,'' says Tom Patterson, state Department of Corrections executive director. ''We have to fill those spots. I worry about how long we can go at this rate. It frightens me.''
Officials blame low pay for the inability to attract and keep prison officers.
Pay is as much as $5 lower per hour than in county jails. Starting pay at the prison is $13.73 an hour. Jails in Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties start at just under $15.50 an hour, while Utah County pays $16.58 an hour.
There were 156 vacancies last week at a prison housing 5,600 inmates.
Warden Steven Turley recently took the unprecedented step of asking every officer to take one overtime shift during each pay period.
As many as 300 employees are working 12 to 16 hours a day.