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63 Md. corrections jobs on chopping block

(Flickr / Ken Mayer / “Prison bars” / CC BY 2.0 / cropped, resized and tonal adjustments)

(Flickr / Ken Mayer / “Prison bars” / CC BY 2.0 / cropped, resized and tonal adjustments)

More than five dozen current employees of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services could lose their jobs as part of a consolidation plan that will be considered Thursday by the Board of Public Works.

The proposal calls for the elimination of 63 human resource positions — nearly half of 139 total positions including contract and temporary employees — and would save the department $3 million.

Matt Clark, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, said state agencies are already under a mandate to reduce spending by 2 percent but that much of the request is about addressing systemic hiring issues that have resulted in the indictment of nearly 30 corrections officers in the last year.

“The actions being taken are very much in response to the the challenges the department is facing with its HR department,” Clark said. “There are real problems within the prisons and the secretary has set out to fix it.”

But the plan raises concerns for some who claim that it violates Gov. Larry Hogan’s promise to balance his first budget without layoffs or furloughs.

“We’re saying if you pass a budget that says no one is going to lose their jobs and then 63 people lose their job, it’s disingenuous,” said Jeff Pittman, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 3. “If it happens here, where else will it happen?”

State law allows the three-member Board of Public Works to reduce state spending by as much as 25 percent. The proposed cuts would reduce the corrections department budget by slightly more than two-tenths of a percent.

It is unclear how many total employees would actually lose their jobs.

Under the proposal, the corrections department plans to reorganize its human resources operations. Currently, staff are located at each correctional facility in the state and a centralized facility at the Reisterstown Plaza.

The reorganization plan calls for hubs to be located in Cumberland, Hagerstown, Jessup, Baltimore and the Eastern Shore. The majority of the work would be performed in the Reisterstown Plaza office.

The agency, in a proposal sent to the board, said the “reorganization will provide for unity of command, centralized direction and authority, and uniformity of employee processes.”

Employees affected by the job elimination would be allowed to re-apply for open positions. Pittman said that might be cold comfort for some who are unable to relocate to Baltimore, where a majority of the remaining jobs would be located.

Earlier this year, Hogan implemented a plan to offer employee buyouts approved by former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley prior to leaving office.

Hogan later said that his first budget would seek 2 percent across- the-board cuts to every state agency. Those cuts were not specified but the governor said he did not expect layoffs.

That assurance was repeated in February in a letter announcing the voluntary separation program that was sent to state employees from state Budget Sec. David Brinkley.

AFSCME and Hogan have had a contentious relationship during the governor’s first few months in office including a spat over Hogan’s plan to not fund cost-of-living raises that started in January. The legislature intervened and fenced off $68 million to prevent the salary giveback. Hogan ultimately announced in May that he would release the money.