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Duncan pledges, if elected, to put 'safety first' in prisons

May 24, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN

Calling Gov. Robert Ehrlich's moves this year to raise salaries and add staff at the state's prisons "an election-year gimmick," gubernatorial candidate Doug Duncan picked up the endorsement Tuesday of a newly formed organization that plans to represent correctional officers in Maryland.

The Fraternal Order of Correctional Officers has no members yet, but the organization has lots of support in Western Maryland and in other parts of the state, organizer John Reamy said.

Reamy announced the endorsement Tuesday afternoon during a sparsely attended news conference at Morris Frock American Legion Post 42. Duncan, accompanied by running mate Stuart Simms, the secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services under former Gov. Parris Glendening, thanked Reamy for the endorsement and pledged that a Duncan administration would provide a safer working environment for correctional officers.

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Though Ehrlich put money in the fiscal 2007 budget for pay raises and more correctional officers, Duncan, who currently serves as Montgomery County executive, said the changes were "not adequate." Staffing at state prisons was cut after a 2003 staffing audit, and correctional officers have complained about being understaffed ever since. A subsequent audit has shown a need for more officers.

"We've seen the consequences of what happens when leaders put politics before policy," Duncan said, adding that he and Simms have a "vision" for improvements.

Asked what that vision entailed, he said "safety first. That's our guiding principle. Do we have the right people in place? Do they have the resources and tools they need? We've been seeing positions disappear all over the state."

He warned that although Ehrlich added money and positions to the Division of Corrections, "there's a fear that those cuts would happen again" if Ehrlich is re-elected.

On another matter of local interest, Duncan said Ehrlich "walked away" from the medical malpractice liability issue in 2005.

"He identified the problem," Duncan said, but failed to bring the two sides together to find a solution. "Our governor has been extraordinarily ineffective," he said. "You have to find a way to bring them together."

Duncan later met with a small group of "Women for Duncan" at the legion, a meeting largely dominated by a discussion of social issues between Hagerstown Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean and Simms.

Simms, who raised some local eyebrows last week when he said during a radio broadcast that Montgomery County was "not some cow pasture in Western Maryland," struck a conciliatory chord Tuesday.

"We've really been treated great by Western Maryland," he said.

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