Maryland's secretary of public safety and correctional services meets with delegation

Gary D. Maynard and J. Michael Stouffer met Friday with Western Maryland's state lawmakers

January 22, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |
  • Gary D. Maynard, Maryland's secretary of public safety and correctional services, left, and J. Michael Stouffer, the commissioner of correction, answered questions from Western Maryland lawmakers on Friday during a meeting in Annapolis.
By Andrew Schotz, Staff Photographer

ANNAPOLIS — After years of complaints from correctional officers, Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. thought he'd help clear the air with the state's public safety secretary.

Gary D. Maynard, Maryland's secretary of public safety and correctional services, and J. Michael Stouffer, the state's commissioner of correction, met with Western Maryland's state lawmakers Friday in Annapolis.

Lawmakers questioned and listened to the state officials on a range of topics, from efficiency to spending to communication.

Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, said he wanted to address persistent concerns and complaints that correctional officers air at the annual public meeting before the legislative session begins.

"Every year, it's like a broken record," Myers said. "It's the same group of people coming with the same, generally the same, complaints. ... I'm ready to get to the bottom of this."

One question he said he has heard is if the department is top heavy — such as whether there should be a warden, an assistant warden and staffs for each of the three state prisons south of Hagerstown instead of one warden for all three.

Stouffer said he used to wonder the same thing, but came to believe that oversight and efficiency are best at the local level.

"I put a lot of emphasis on the wardens and the assistant wardens and the chiefs of security to get things done at those institutions," he said.

The department has cut positions at its headquarters, Maynard added.

He also addressed complaints that Myers mentioned.

Four years ago, Maynard said, correctional officers' biggest concern was their safety, largely due to unfilled positions. Two officers had been killed while on duty.

Now, about 98 percent of the positions are filled and overtime is down, he said.

Maynard said he suggested to Gov. Martin O'Malley that he talk to correctional officers and union representatives in Washington County — which he did in November.

But the biggest issues raised then, Maynard said, were whether chairs purchased through the state prison system were cheaper at Walmart, why air conditioning units for inmates weren't hooked up and why correctional officers were losing part of their pay due to cuts but inmates weren't.

"After that meeting," Maynard said Friday, "I went to the governor and I apologized, and I said, 'I do not know why you come out and talk to these people.' It's the same kind of questions that you talk about that keep coming up time and time again."

He added that when he became secretary four years ago, the wardens didn't talk much to the unions, so he ordered them to meet every month.

"When they tell you that we won't listen to them," he said, "that's not true."

Four years ago, "they were concerned about their safety. They were afraid," Maynard said. "That is not the case now. The only consolation I have is that they're down to these minute issues ...."

In Allegany County, which has two state prisons, the delegation has been an intermediary for prison questions, a system that works well, said Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany. He said he doesn't hear the same complaints that are expressed in Washington County.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said there have been "great strides" at the local prisons, but added, "I think I would take a little bit of exception with the idea that these are personal issues. Because although they might seem like small issues — you're talking air conditioners, you're talking about chairs at Walmart — I think they're systemic of larger issues .... The sacrifices that they have been asked to make from a financial perspective ... and they continue to take it on the chin, I think, if you would."

Maynard replied that while correctional officers have had "salary reduction days," other states have laid off officers.

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said he was asked if the department plans to transfer supervisors to other regions.

The department is considering rotating custody supervisors, Stouffer said, but all would stay within their region.

He said an assistant commissioner mentioned the possibility to the wardens, and it spread from there. The department will consider the issue more.

"We might have got a little bit ahead of ourselves," Stouffer said.

Asked later Friday what he sees as top issues, Patrick Moran, director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in Maryland, a union that represents correctional officers, said: "Always safety. You can't emphasize that enough. Staffing, staffing, staffing."

He said communication between the union and the department is better than it was under Gov. Martin O'Malley's predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich.

"Under the last administration, it was just awful," Moran said.

He said the union has regular communication with the department at the state and local levels.

Asked about staffing in the Hagerstown region, Moran said, "I think it's down everywhere and that needs to be addressed."

Maynard told the Western Maryland delegation that the department doesn't tolerate employee corruption.

"We have 7,000 uniformed officers in the state of Maryland," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of those are the salt of the earth, upstanding officers who do a good job and are great public servants.

"We have about 1 percent — about 70 out of 7,000 — that are, the term we don't like, they are guards. They're the ones that are bringing in drugs, they're having sex with inmates and bringing in cell phones. That's the ones that we're after all the time, that 1 percent. They are actually guards — they don't deserve the title 'correctional officers.' We've just got to find who they are and get them out of the system."

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