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Union takes issue with Md. parole, probation vacancies

Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3. (File / The Daily Record)

Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3, which has expressed earlier concerns about the number of open jobs in the state’s corrections agency. (File / The Daily Record)

Officials of  Maryland’s largest state employees union are expected to highlight what they say is a concerning number of vacancies within the state Division of Parole and Probation.

The union has scheduled a news conference for Thursday in Baltimore to discuss what it calls a “severe staff shortages of  parole and probation agents and support staff and the lack of hiring” at the agency at a time when it is preparing for expected larger caseloads as the state implements changes spurred by the new Justice Reinvestment Act.

AFSCME, in a release, said the agency has 120 total vacancies, including 67 parole and probation agents out of 695 total positions.

Earlier this year, an analysis by the Department of Legislative Services noted that the agents within the division were, on average, handling a workload of 116 cases per agent — the fourth-highest average compared to 31 other states.

Those same analysts recommended the legislature adopt budget language calling on the agency to reduce that average caseload to 82 per agent.

Since that time, the agency has had 14 additional vacancies for parole and probation agents, according to a release from AFSCME.

Those caseloads could increase in the next year as the state implements the Justice Reinvestment Act. Supporters of the legislation say the newly passed law, which takes effect next year, will help the state reduce the number of people incarcerated in state prisons and save money by placing non-violent offenders into drug treatment, employment training and supervised probation.

But the law is also expected to potentially increase the number of parole and probation agents needed to handle the additional cases.

“It’s going to have to be beefed up in a very big way,” said Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “The words on the page are one thing but the implementation of (the law) is going to be different. That’s just one place where we are going to need additional resources.”

How many new agents will be needed as a result of the new law is not clear, Zirkin said.

The news conference Thursday afternoon is the second event in two weeks in which the union has complained about vacancies within the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

In June, union officials complained that the department was dragging its feet in hiring new correctional officers. A spokesman for the department disputed the number of vacancies and said the state was actively recruiting to fill the budgeted positions.