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Union blasts state over prison safety

June 11, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A union representing some of Washington County's correctional officers said Friday that a warden's sudden resignation highlights a safety crisis in state prisons.

"We have met repeatedly with Governor Ehrlich's administration and explained how dangerous conditions are in Maryland prisons and the Governor has refused to admit that he has not hired enough officers to provide safety for staff or inmates," Ron Bailey, the executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92, said in a news release.

"The Ehrlich administration has made a decision to operate with staffing levels that are dangerously unsafe," the release continues. "Decreased staffing levels mean decreased safety, period."

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Joseph Sacchet cited public safety as a reason he resigned through a letter to The Herald-Mail on Thursday. Sacchet was the warden at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown the last two years and previously served as warden of the other two prisons south of Hagerstown.

In his resignation letter, he accused the Maryland Division of Correction of "dictatorial leadership," a "disregard for real public safety" and "an outright display of elitism."

During an interview on Thursday, Sacchet said the DOC cut 82 positions at MCI when he was prepared for 30 to 35.

"Warden Sacchet's resignation proves that not just the corrections officers on the front lines know that we do not have enough officers to provide adequate safety but that management knows it as well," Bailey's statement said.

On Friday, Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell referred questions about the union's statement to the Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services, which includes the DOC.

In a written release, Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar said, "Warden Sacchet has had a long career with the Maryland Division of Correction and we appreciate all he's done in his more than 30 years of serving the citizens of Maryland.

"We're committed to working with legislators and anyone else who comes forward with concerns or recommendations.

"The 6,841 correctional officers in our system deserve for people to recognize the great job they are doing in a very difficult environment. They know my door is always open, my e-mail is always read and answered. Nothing is more important than their safety."

But Council 92 spokesman Jeff Pittman said several prisons don't have enough officers, and safety has been lacking for a few years.

"We definitely think it's a statewide crisis," he said.

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