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Local lawmakers pushing for prison staffing reforms

Ehrlich prison announcement set

Ehrlich prison announcement set

January 13, 2006|By TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

tammyb@herald-mail.com

As Gov. Robert Ehrlich prepares to make a budget announcement regarding the state's prisons today, Western Maryland legislators are continuing to press the governor's office for action on persistent complaints about staffing and safety at the institutions.

Ehrlich plans to make the announcement at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women at Jessup.

Washington County legislators heard from a number of correctional officers about staffing concerns during their annual public meeting Saturday, which included continued charges that positions the legislature had approved in the state's budget for local prisons were not filled.

Washington County Delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said Thursday that over the summer he asked the Department of Legislative Services to investigate whether the charges were true. In an Aug. 30 letter obtained by The Herald-Mail and addressed to Shank and Sen. James E. DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel, policy analyst Keri Beth Cain said the issue could be a problem of interpreting various budget documents - for example, the governor's initial proposal as compared with what the legislature finally approved.

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"The governor's allowance is not the actual State budget as passed by the General Assembly. This is simply the Governor's proposed budget, which is submitted to the General Assembly as a bill for passage by both chambers. This bill is always amended - often resulting in reductions to numerous departments," she wrote.

"There are likely fluctuations in the number of authorized positions throughout the year. State agencies do have a certain amount of discretion over their spending and personnel. This means that they may move positions and funds around within the Division of Correction without seeking approval from the budget committees."

In addition, Cain said "when the budget is created, it is assumed that not all positions will be filled at all times during the fiscal year. This is in recognition of the time it takes to hire replacements for departing state employees."

Departments, she noted, had to hold funding for regular positions open during fiscal 2004 or face a budget shortfall.

Cain's research showed the legislature had actually cut the number of positions at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown. But it also supported the correctional officers' contention that other staff had been cut in order to provide personnel for Project RESTART, a rehabilitation program supported by the Ehrlich administration.

"Over the last several fiscal years, agencies have had to contend with position ceilings put in place by the legislature as part of cost containment efforts," Cain wrote. "The legislature also further reduced the Division of Correction work force in fiscal 2005. In direct response to a post evaluation study that was conducted by (the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services), the legislature abolished 50 correctional officers to be eliminated through attrition. The personnel figures at MCI-H reflect these abolitions as 40 positions were eliminated during fiscal 2005.

Further, Cain said, "the legislature authorized the department to reallocate positions during fiscal 2005 for the implementation of RESTART at two (Division of Correction) institutions.RESTART was implemented at two pilot sites - the Maryland Correctional Training Center and the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women - in fiscal 2005. This also contributed to the reduction of positions at MCI-H during fiscal 2005."

Shank said the state has given back some of the positions that were lost.

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