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Officers at Maryland’s largest prison say that they have been understaffed for years, fostering an unsafe environment and leading to a rise in assaults on staff.
Last weekend, two or three inmates attacked an officer at the Eastern Correctional Institution, said Patrick Moran, the president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3, at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
“This is a result of not enough eyes on the ground, not enough staff to deal with the amount of inmates,” Moran said.
Some of these attacks occur because inmates are able to open doors or manipulate equipment in facilities to get in blind spots of security cameras, Moran continued. He asserted that there is a ratio of 96 inmates to one officer and over 100 vacancies at the Eastern Correctional Institution.
As of July 13, 97.89% of Eastern Correctional Institution’s positions were filled, according to Mark Vernarelli, the spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. There are nine uniformed officer vacancies, he continued. For security purposes, Vernarelli said he could not give an inmate to officer ratio at the Eastern Correctional Institution.
Rownite Stevens, a union shop steward for AFSCME Council 3, has been a sergeant at the Eastern Correctional Institution for the last 14 years.
“Without enough staff, we are constantly running behind serious security risks. That’s not fair to us as officers,” she said during the press conference, speaking on the behalf of the union.
She implored management to clearly communicate with all officers whenever assaults occur.
Daniel Price, a sergeant at the Eastern Correctional Institution for the past 13 years, said that the coronavirus pandemic has made working in prisons even more dangerous. He urged the state to hire a hundred more officers, especially experienced officers, at the Eastern Correctional Institution to adequately maintain public safety.
“We need the [Maryland Department of Corrections] to supply us with equipment and ensure that the facility is secure. We can’t have more excuses about fixing cameras and doors later. This could be life or death for my colleagues,” Price said, speaking on the behalf of the union.
Staff shortages at the facility have been an ongoing problem for the last several years, but the union alleges that despite warning the Hogan administration about it, the state has not invested in staffing of correctional facilities.
AFSCME Council 3 is demanding that the state hire more staff, allocate more resources for facilities maintenance, and compensate long-time officers who have been working at the facility for as long as 20 years, Moran said. There is little incentive for experienced officers to continue working in state facilities, especially when the federal correctional system is much better funded and resourced, he continued.
Although this has been an ongoing issue, Moran said the union is bringing this issue up now because they have seen “a huge swing in assaults.”
Moran referenced the 2017 riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Delaware that led to a correctional sergeant stabbed and beaten to death and another held hostage. A lack of staffing at correctional facilities could lead to a similar situation in Maryland, he warned.
Since January 2020, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has hired more than 750 correctional officers, according to Vernarelli. The Department has offered both regional and new hiring bonuses, and recently raised the salaries of new hires, all in an effort to recruit more correctional professionals, he continued.
“We continue to do everything in our power to increase staffing to join our highly valued ECI workforce. The top priority of DPSCS is to protect its employees and those in its custody. Every assault or attempted assault is thoroughly investigated, and investigators work with prosecutors to bring every suspect involved to justice,” Vernarelli said.