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Area prisons left out of Ehrlich plan

Governor's proposal adds no more correctional officers here

Governor's proposal adds no more correctional officers here

March 17, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - As expected, the supplemental budget proposal released Thursday by Gov. Robert Ehrlich included 160 correctional officer positions.

None of those positions, however, were slated for the three prisons at the complex south of Hagerstown or the two prisons in Cumberland.

"When I looked at that budget today, I was surprised," Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said.

On Wednesday, Ehrlich announced that $5.5 million had been earmarked for new correctional officers across the state. On Thursday, the breakdown of those positions was released: 101 at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, 14 at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup and 45 at the Baltimore City Detention Center.

Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus found no positions slated for the prisons in his lower Eastern Shore District and asked why.

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Ehrlich spokesman Greg Massoni said the positions were initially slotted for the other institutions "for the simplicity of budgeting. As always, they can be placed by the (Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar) as needed."

Asked specifically whether any would be coming to Hagerstown, Massoni said, "there definitely will be some going to Hagerstown."

Massoni said Ehrlich had not known where the positions were assigned when he spoke with reporters Wednesday. Asked then how many would go to the prisons in Hagerstown, Ehrlich said he didn't know, but "we'll get you that breakdown."

According to Maryland Correctional Institution officer Kenny Neely, correctional officers were told at roll call Thursday about the addition of new positions. That night, he expressed anger at the news that none of those positions were earmarked for Hagerstown.

"I don't believe a damn thing none of them people say until I see it," Neely said.

Munson said that as a member of the subcommittee overseeing the Public Safety and Correctional Services budget, "I would use all my efforts" to make sure some of those positions go to Western Maryland."

Officers at Western Maryland prisons have been campaigning loudly about staffing shortages for the past three years, and local legislators have taken that campaign to the governor's door. Ehrlich acknowledged their efforts Wednesday, saying his decision resulted from discussions that "have been ongoing for many months" between his office and Western Maryland legislators.

"The people here are the people who've been active on this issue," Ehrlich said. "A lot of groups communicate concerns; not all of them have the credibility of this group."

Ray Lushbaugh, a representative for Teamsters Local 103, which represents corrections personnel across the state, said officers at MCI can not always immediately respond to calls for backup because of short staffing.

"And, if you do have a call for a fight, it will take a while for backup to get there, and hopefully there's not an officer involved," Lushbaugh said.

Lushbaugh estimated MCI's shortage at 50 to 100 officers over three shifts.

The Maryland Classified Employees Association, which also represents officers, would support hiring officers wherever they are needed, director of communications Janet Anderson said.

Anderson said more positions would reduce assaults on corrections officers.

"It's just really unfortunate that there seems to be shortsightedness in this whole situation," Anderson said.

Members of Western Maryland's delegation were stunned Thursday when the budget document contained no Western Maryland positions.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington; Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany;, Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington; and Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, all said they didn't realize none were included. House Minority Leader George Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany, did not know the positions were all slated for Anne Arundel County and Baltimore either, but said he still expected local institutions would get some of them.

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