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Md. legislators meet with correctional officers, union officials

Some of the officers who were fired attend meeting

Some of the officers who were fired attend meeting

April 17, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HANCOCK -- State delegates and senators met with correctional officers and union officials Wednesday in Hancock to discuss the recent firings of more than 20 correctional officers from two Western Maryland prisons.

The American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees invited the elected officials to Wednesday's meeting. Local media outlets were not allowed at the meeting.

This month, 23 officers were fired from Roxbury Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison south of Hagerstown, and North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland, Md. An additional two Roxbury officers had been fired, but were reinstated last week.

Some of the officers who were fired attended Wednesday's meeting, said state officials who were in attendance.

At least two injured inmates were involved in separate incidents that led to the excessive force allegations that led to the terminations, prisons spokesman Mark Vernarelli has said.

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One Roxbury inmate was found injured during the weekend of March 8 and was hospitalized. Prison officials have said that incident might have been connected to a March 6 assault by inmates on officers.

Subsequently, at least one inmate at North Branch, who had been housed at RCI, alleged he was a victim of excessive force, Vernarelli has said.

Morale of prison staff has suffered as a result of the way the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has handled the matter, AFSMCE spokesman Joe Lawrence said Wednesday night in a telephone interview.

The fact that two officers were reinstated "exposes the administration for the ruthless fashion they conducted these firings," Lawrence said.

Correctional officers expressed concerns about how the situation has been handled, particularly that the investigation was quite broad, Del. Christopher B. Shank, who attended the meeting, said Wednesday night in a telephone interview.

Shank, R-Washington, talked Wednesday with Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary D. Maynard about morale concerns. Maynard shares the concerns and is willing to meet with the officers, Shank said.

Shank has asked Maynard or Division of Correction Commissioner John Michael Stouffer to visit the Western Region to hear the officers' concerns.

Discussions Wednesday also turned to the possibility of a Correctional Officers' Bill of Rights, Shank said. It's incumbent upon the state to ensure investigations are thorough prior to terminating someone, he said.

"These officers put their lives on the line every day," he said. "I want to make sure the department respects that."

Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, and Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, also attended Wednesday's meeting.

In addition to talking about the terminations, the officers expressed concerns about future accusations from inmates, Edwards said. Other conditions at the prisons, including a Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown correctional officer who contracted a MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, infection, also were discussed, he said.

"It is the absolute worst job in state government," Kelly said of corrections.

Edwards and Kelly said during telephone interviews Wednesday night that they were going to communicate the concerns to the secretary and commissioner.




On the agenda:/



DISCIPLINARY ACTION: The recent firings of 23 correctional officers in connection with alleged excessive use of force.

MORALE: How the investigation and the handling of that disciplinary action, which included two reinstatements, has affected morale.

WELFARE: A recent infection of MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, by a correctional officer.

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