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Union backs change in correctional officers' retirement

February 08, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Union members on Tuesday showed their support for a bill to allow correctional officers a retirement option now available to the Maryland State Police - and used the opportunity to voice ongoing concerns about safety at the state's prisons.

Sponsored by Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, the bill would let correctional officers work up to five years beyond their official retirement. During that time, their retirement pay would be deposited into an escrow account where it would earn 6 percent interest until the officer's actual retirement. The program is called Deferred Retirement Option Program.

"I think it's important, given the current state of morale in our correctional facilities, that we give this option to these hardworking people," Donoghue told the House Appropriations Committee during a hearing on the bill.

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A number of correctional workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees attended the hearing. Those who spoke told the committee that the state needs to give experienced officers incentives to stay on the job. At present, they're retiring early, they said.

"Less than 2 percent of the employees in my facility have over 20 years," said Joseph Colburn, a correctional officer at the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, Md. "We're having officers being killed, we're having officers being beaten senseless We need a recruiting tool; we need a safer environment" that having experienced officers in the prisons would bring, he said.

Now, officers are retiring after 20 years, even if they're not very old, he said. But at 20 years, he said their retirement pay is equivalent to only 25 percent of their salaries.

Giving the officers the chance to save the nest egg the program would provide might persuade some of them to stay longer, he said.

The Division of Correction recognizes that recruitment and retention of correctional officers is a problem, said Sue Esty, legislative director for AFSCME Council 92.

"Experience is at a premium," she said.

Noting that the DOC lowered the age limit for new correctional officers, Sheila Hill, a correctional officer at Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Md., told the committee that "with bringing in 18-year-olds, we really need (correctional officers) with maturity and experience" to make the prisons safer.

House Bill 251

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