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Bill would allow retire correctional officers to fill vacancies

March 09, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - A proposal to allow retired correctional officers to temporarily return to state prisons to help fill staffing needs got bipartisan support in the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

Letting retirees fill relief slots until new full-time officers are recruited is "a way to fill vacancies" plaguing the state's prisons, Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany said.

The Division of Correction supports the bill, according to Mary L. Livers, deputy secretary for operations.

"We do believe this bill will help us considerably," Livers said.

She told the committee the division is experiencing a turnover rate of 6 percent to 37 percent, depending on the region.

Letting retired officers return to fill the gaps would have the added benefit of "bringing back experienced correctional officers that can mentor new officers," she said.

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Most Western Maryland delegates signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, reminded committee members that in the past, they had "spent a lot of time and effort on similar bills for teachers and nurses, for similar reasons," he said. Approving this bill would alleviate the "serious vacancy problems" the DOC is experiencing, he said.

Del. Doyle Niemann, D-Prince George's, asked how many currently retired officers would be willing to come back to work as opposed to how many would retire at the earliest opportunity, then return for temporary assignments. Myers replied that officers at Roxbury Correctional Institution near Hagerstown had told him they could identify at least 50.

Shank told Niemann the committee could put the same restrictions on the bill that had been placed on the bills for teachers and nurses to prevent abuse.

Del. Joan Cadden, D-Anne Arundel, said abuse had not been a problem since the legislation for teachers and nurses had been approved.

"In light of the drastic needs to fill these positions, I think this is an excellent way to go," said Cadden, a co-sponsor.

Several correctional officers attended the hearing in support of the bill. The committee should consider not so much what the bill would do for retired officers, but what having their experience available would do to help the prisons, said John Wilson, a correctional officers at the North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland.

"This would be a blow to some of the downfalls we're experiencing now, staffing shortages among them," he said.

But while supporting the bill, Sue Esty, legislative director for AFSCME Council 92, said she feared the bill would give correctional officers an incentive to retire earlier and then return. She said the union also was concerned about the possibility of replacing permanent positions with contractual employees "if this became overly successful."

The committee hasn't yet voted on the bill.

House bill 1364

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