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Letters to the editor - 9/15/02

September 16, 2002

Detention-center employee concerns are not being met



To the editor:


We are Washington County Detention Center employees. We would like to clarify several issues raised in a recent article on our agency. The entire sheriff's department used to be a team, but in 2000 two links in the chain were deemed more important than the third. This is not a simple pay issue; far from it. We support our counterparts in law enforcement and we hope they recognize and support us as well. We support upgrading their pay; they deserved it. We do, however, resent the criteria used to do it.

In 2000, the Board of County Commissioners was told there was a dangerously high turnover rate in the patrol division. Disparity among police officers and correctional officers was justified because "we were the only county in Maryland who paid the same."

In the previous six years, 11 deputies had resigned from the patrol division, but 36 left the detention center during the same period! Numerous studies warn against disparity. The problems these studies warn about have taken place at WCDC.

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Many of us were aware of these studies and our status among Maryland's jails. However we saw Washington County as progressive, rather than behind. The article cited 2003 salaries of $40,000 and up for senior officers. The lowest salary quoted was for an assistant shift commander who at least one day per week is in charge of the jail and solely responsible for the lives of 400 people and a $7 million operation. The Maryland average for an "entry level supervisor" in 2000 was $49,160.

Most of us are county taxpayers as well as employees. We recognize the constraints of fiscal responsibility. However in a comparison to four similar operations in Frederick, Howard, Harford and Charles counties where inmate populations are similar to ours, the overall budget ranges from $1.5 million to $4.5 million more.

In those counties, an average five-year officer earns from $4,000 to $7,000 more. Staffing at these agencies runs 15 to 34 more officers, yet state and federal laws mandate that the same services be provided by all.

Improved inmate-to-officer ratios mean safety for the officers, the inmates and the community from which the inmates have been separated. Last month the detention center operated at or below minimum staffing an average of 22 days.

A supervisor recently suggested that doors be labeled so inmates can find their way around. The reason inmates are being sent freely throughout the facility is due to a lack of officers to escort them. Sheriff Charles Mades has repeatedly stated that he would support us, but he has not publicly lobbied on our behalf as he has for other employees. He is the captain of the ship. It is the crew's responsibility to fight for the crew.

To Commissioners Bert Iseminger, Greg Snook and William Wivell, who stated on Aug. 12 they were "not aware of problems at the jail," we offer the following timeline:

Spring 2000 - A group of correctional deputies met with the BOCC and expressed concerns over pay and benefits at WCDC.

April 2001 - All five commissioners met with most of the staff and were given a detailed presentation on the current status, background, trends and proposed solutions to these problems. Each was presented with a folder containing extensive research material.

January 2002 - each commissioner was sent a letter and folder similar to that presented a year earlier.

Jan.-Feb. 2002 - Personal phone calls were made to each commissioner about the documents and offers were made to answer any questions, or meet to discuss the issues.

February 2002 - During the sheriff's budget presentation, several commissioners made passing mention to the referenced documents, but no action was taken.

After adjournment, all five commissioners approached the four correctional deputies present and instigated a discussion of these issues. Commissioner Wivell was given a list of 47 officers who have left in the last eight years. Wivell said he would distribute it to the other commissioners. The Herald-Mail is in possession of documents from these meetings. How can the commissioners say they didn't know about them?

Perhaps the single most demoralizing factor is the attitude that we are disposable deputies. As we've heard before and Commissioners' President Greg Snook was quoted as saying on Aug. 12 "if they want to leave, that's their prerogative." To such attitudes we cite the following: Of 237 applications received for the entire sheriff's department only 62 were for the jail. 24 of those reported for testing. 18 qualified for interviews. Nine were suitable for background checks. Eight were successfully hired. With this information, we ask Commissioner Snook and the other officials, if we do leave, who will run your jail?

Robert Beckley

Tony Pepple

Scott Canfield

R. Richard Keadle

John Wolford

James Showe

Daniel Hixon,

Penny Powell

Lindy Reese

Robert Ankerbrand

Lynn Reedy

William Nutter

Terri Taylor

Steven McCoy

Arnold Vincent

Joshua Jarrell

James Powell

Melvin Swope

Randy Bradley

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