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Correctional officers express frustration to Duncan

March 07, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN

More inmates.

Reduced staffing.

Stagnant salaries.

And the murder of a fellow officer.

Area correctional officers are frustrated, Western Correctional Institution Officer Keith Martin said Monday night as about 100 officers and their spouses listened to what Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan - a candidate for governor- would do for them if elected.

"They put their lives on the line everyday," Duncan said, referring to correctional officers. "And they need help."

Duncan, who spoke with officers at the Morris Frock American Legion in Hagerstown, said safety is a priority.

"We need a new governor," he said. "I don't see the leadership in Annapolis working to get things done."

Duncan fielded questions and listened to many concerns Monday night. Issues included staffing, pay, benefits, increased violence, prisoner privileges and the lack of concern for correctional officers at the state level.

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Sheila Hill, a Patuxent Institution correctional officer in Jessup, Md., said she believes low staffing leads to low morale.

Rose Black, a nurse at Maryland Correctional Training Center and wife of a correctional officer, said she knows the beatings that officers suffer because she is the one who patches them up after frequent fights. Increased gang violence in prisons, and a lack of respect for the officers, is to blame for the high number of attacks, she said.

Black said one officer can be responsible for as many as 90 prisoners at one time. Those numbers, she said, are not safe for the officers or the inmates. Black said a hit list with officers' names on it recently was circulating through MCTC.

"We need more correctional officers," Black said.

Phil True, a Hancock resident and MCTC correctional officer, said Gov. Robert Ehrlich promised officers retroactive pay effective since January. True said the officers have not seen any of the money, and officials are claiming the money is no longer there.

"I came to see if (Duncan) was someone who was going to help us," he said.

When Duncan criticized Ehrlich and current state-level administrators, the officers cheered.

Duncan promised good compensation and the best equipment and training available to preserve safety and security at all correctional facilities.

Martin said while officers had a 2 percent pay raise last year, the cost of their insurance increased, and the amount correctional officers take home from their pay is actually less.

"I've had enough," he said. "We get short-changed every year."

Alan Hall, a WCI correctional officer, said he is not sure if more compensation alone would solve the problem at area institutions.

"They just don't care about us," Hall said of state-level prison administration. "Everybody's safety is at risk."

Duncan said correctional officers should be treated as true members of the public safety community. He accused Ehrlich of paying attention to correctional officers only during election years and pledged to work with officers to map agendas for success in correctional institutions across the state.

"We're not where we need to be," Duncan said. "We not only need a new governor, we need new leadership at the cabinet level."

His said his goal is to restore confidence in government.

"I'm here to promise a partnership," Duncan said. "It's got to be safety first."

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