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Corrections officers voice concerns

August 03, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - Corrections officers gathered for a union picnic Saturday said Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich's decision to cut overtime spending at state prisons was not completely unexpected, but is just one more issue that has contributed to low morale and potentially could threaten security.

Members of Local 1772 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said staffing at the three state prisons south of Hagerstown has been stretched by earlier demands to cut overtime and decisions to leave vacancies unfilled.

"This is just gonna compound the problem," said Rod Beard, a corrections officer at Maryland Correctional Training Center. "I've been there almost 20 years and morale in the institutions is at an all-time low."

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The state Board of Public Works last week approved a reduction of $2.8 million for overtime pay and related costs from the Division of Correction's budget. The cuts are for this fiscal year only, and are part of a $208 million budget reduction aimed had helping the state avoid a $1 billion budget deficit in fiscal 2005.

Local 1772 President Rick Thomas said he wasn't surprised by the move.

"I knew it was coming," he said.

The union is awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit it has filed against the state because the governor cut pay raises required under the union's contract, which expires next summer, Thomas said. He predicted the union would continue to file grievances over what it sees as violations of its contract.

Several corrections officers said they were concerned there would not be enough staff available to respond to serious incidents in the prisons. Lately, they said, they've been finding a lot of weapons among inmates and dealing with more stabbings and fights.

"There seems to be more this summer," said Steve Jordan, a corrections officer at MCTC.

So far, officers said, they've been able to cover security at the prisons, which they estimate house a combined inmate population of about 7,000.

"Are we cutting corners to do it? Yes," Jordan said.

The cuts "will jeopardize security," Beard said.

"It already is," he said. "I'm curious as to how much of the public who live near the prisons realize the situation and what jeopardy they're in."

"I hope people realize it's a public safety issue," Thomas said. "This isn't just corrections officers griping about a raise."

"Or lack thereof," added Beard.

Several other corrections officers echoed those sentiments, but asked not to be identified.

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