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Union concerned about effect of cuts to public safety

Two men are seen silhouetted behind the screen of their jail cell at the Baltimore City Detention Center. State officials say budget cuts to the public safety department will not permanently eliminate positions, but the union representing corrections employees is skeptical. (File photo)

Two men are seen silhouetted behind the screen of their jail cell at the Baltimore City Detention Center. State officials say budget cuts to the public safety department will not permanently eliminate positions, but the union representing corrections employees is skeptical. (File photo)

Officials with Maryland’s largest public employees union say they are concerned about budget cuts made to the state’s public safety department

The Board of Public Works, chaired by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, approved Wednesday $8.4 million in cuts to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services as part of more than $79 million in budget actions. Officials within the department said the reductions won’t permanently eliminate positions nor affect efforts to recruit to fill vacant positions.

Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland Council 3, said he remains skeptical regarding claims that positions remain available.

“What they are saying does not comport with the reality on the ground,” said Moran, who added that he is getting reports from prisons around the state that positions have been permanently cut.

“I’m skeptical those positions are still there,” he continued. “The reality is that when (positions) go away, they never come back unless the flood waters rise and locusts descend from the skies.”

On Wednesday, the Board of Public Works unanimously approved a plan to make mid-year reductions to the state’s current budget totaling nearly $63 million.

The savings from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Department represented one of the larger chunks of funding. Though identified as “salary savings,” no positions were identified.

Gary McLhinney, director of professional standards at the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the savings come from various positions, including vacant corrections officer positions that were not filled in the first quarter of the budget year. The fiscal 2018 year began in July 1.

“The positions run the gamut from cooks and secretaries and administrative staff, corrections officers and trainers,” said McLhinney. “We didn’t have to identify each one since none of the (positions) were eliminated.”

Instead, McLhinney said the money cut from the budget represents savings from positions that will not be filled in the first quarter of the year.

“The positions remain available to be filled and we are actively trying to fill them,” said Mclhinney.

While McLhinney and Moran both agree filling correctional officer vacancies remains a challenge, they disagree on the exact number of vacancies.

Moran estimated the total number of vacancies between 750 and 1,000 positions.

The lack of staffing has led to an increase in assaults on officers, he said.

“When you are this poorly staffed, a thinking person would move people from an area that is not as valuable to positions that are much needed,” Moran said. “I can tell you right now, this is going to affect the operations of prisons and it’s going to affect them negatively.”

But McLhinney said the official number is “less than half” of the union’s estimate.

In February, the Department of Legislative Services reported that 576 of the 847 vacancies within the department were unfilled corrections officer positions. More than 40 percent of the total open positions were vacant for at least a year, according to the report.

“We fully recognize that it has been difficult to find qualified applicants,” said McLhinney. “This is true of law enforcement in general. Everybody is struggling.”


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