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State's plans for prison contain serious problems

February 15, 2004|by Mark Davis, Hagerstown

To the editor:

As a recently retired correctional officer, I have been following with interest the events that are unfolding at the state prison complex. After reading the article in your paper on Jan, 21 titled "Study: Prisons need fewer guards, more counselors," I felt it was necessary to voice my concerns to your readers in the Tri-State area.

To the people who live near, or drive by, a correctional facility, the big, shiny, double fences wrapped in razor ribbon offer them a sense of security. I would like to share with them what I was reminded of on the day I was promoted to lieutenant.

The fences, locks and cells are physical barriers - do not rely on them to prevent an escape. The best way to prevent escapes is making sure that the people under your supervision are doing their jobs. The people referred to here are the guards in your headline. The correctional officers, the men and women who are working the housing areas, standing the watch towers, or providing security - in the area that the study wants to put in more counselors.

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Please do not misunderstand; I firmly believe that the institutions need more programs, more counselors and educators. But their job can only be completed in a safe and humane environment. That environment cannot exist inside an institution without the men and women in uniform.

Del. Galen R. Claggett is right in saying we should not add programs and pay for it in lack of security. With each position that is not filled, with every collapsed post there is a loss of security. When the physical makeup of the institution is not changed, or the existing workload on the remaining staff is not reduced, something is going to give.

Simple logic tells you that with everything being equal, if you reduce staff you reduce security, if you reduce security you make it easier for someone to escape. In your article, Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Mary Ann Saars said, "The bottom line is safer communities." I ask you this, if the inmates and staff inside are less safe and you are making it easier for someone to escape from one of your institutions, where is the community that she is making safer?

Her Deputy Secretary Mary L. Livers stated that experts were brought in to conduct a study on staffing. I would like to know what happened to the department's study from a couple of years ago that showed the institutions actually needed more staff.

They spent so much time and effort to teach the institutions how to use this staffing analysis and to convince them on how great a tool it was. Now with money tight, they use an outside entity to get the results they want. I have not seen the official report, but I worked inside MCI-H for almost 14 years. You cannot cut 83 positions without seriously jeopardizing the security of this facility, the safety of staff, or the welfare of the inmates housed there.

Deputy Secretary Livers also commented on how she talked with the wardens across the state and how she was told that the climate in the prisons have been good. She is either hearing what she wants to hear or being told what she wants to be told. If you do not think so, go interview the men and women working the front lines inside these facilities.

Let them tell you about the hoops they have been asked to jump through to make these cuts work. As you drive by the state prison complex the next time, and you look at that shiny fence separating you and your family from what's inside, I ask you to think of this:

Budget cuts and safety guidelines being compromised or changed, decisions made based on fiscal, instead of safety concerns, and an over- burdened work force trying to meet the unrealistic demands placed upon it. Has the DPSCS in Maryland forgotten so quickly the terrible price that was paid at NASA for the very same mistakes?

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