Christine Stuart photo
Jon Pepe and Luke Leone, presidents of AFSCME Council 4 Locals 391 and 1565 (Christine Stuart photo)

It’s one of the most dangerous jobs in state government, which is why Correction Department officers and lawmakers alike were shocked by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s veto earlier this month.

The bill, which passed unanimously in the House and the Senate, called for the creation of a Correctional Staff Health and Safety Subcommittee to review how inmate assaults on staff are reported and investigated.

At a union hall in Middletown Tuesday morning, members of several Correction Department unions made a plea to the legislature’s Democratic majority to override Rell’s veto when it convenes July 20.

While none of the union officials were able to say with any certainty that a veto override is imminent, Rep. Karen Jarmoc, D-Enfield, said in a phone interview Tuesday that she’s optimistic the legislature will override the veto during its session next week.

Jarmoc, who chaired the legislature’s task force on Correctional Officer safety, said Rell’s veto message was “so random it doesn’t even make sense.”

One of Rell’s main objections to the bill, according to her veto message, was the lack of a gubernatorial appointment to the subcommittee.

“The bill is well intentioned, but flawed,” Rell said on July 2. “The composition of the subcommittee is set forth in the bill, and although it includes the Commissioners of Correction, Public Safety and Mental Health and Addiction Services, it makes no provision for gubernatorial appointments.”

Since the governor appoints the commissioners of Correction, Public Safety, and Mental Health and Addiction Services, Jarmoc said she believed Rell would have representation on the subcommittee. However, if her office had asked for an appointment while lawmakers were working on the bill, Jarmoc said, then she would have gotten one. According to Jarmoc, the bill was drafted in a bipartisan fashion.

Rell’s other objection was the increase in bureaucracy the bill would create.

“My goal has been to streamline state government and eliminate redundancy,” Rell said in her veto message. “Every year we enact legislation creating more study groups, task forces, boards, and commissions. Often these boards increase both the costs and requirements of state government. Sadly, far too often there is little attempt to reach consensus without legislation.”

Jarmoc said there was no fiscal note associated with the creation of the task force, meaning it is not expected to increase spending.

Danger Of Inmate Assaults Very Real

Christine Stuart photo
Luke Leone shows off the scar he received in 2001 from breaking up a fight between inmates (Christine Stuart photo)

“There has been an increase in direct assaults on staff,” Jarmoc said.

During a recent attack at Northern Correctional Institute in Somers, Jarmoc said, an HIV positive inmate tried to spit into the eyes and mouths of officers. One of those officers talks about attack in the first person on this blog post.

Luke Leone, president of AFSCME Local 1565, said inmates have no fear of assaulting prison staff members.

And that’s probably because there are “no consequences for these actions,” said Dwayne Bickford, president of AFSCME Local 387.

Union officials also said overcrowding also is a factor in the safety of the guards. Bickford said many of the inmates still are sleeping on gymnasium floors and in other unconventional spaces. Such unsecured areas that make prison guards’ jobs more dangerous, he said.

The number of inmates in Connecticut today is 18,814, down from an all-time high of 19,875 in January 2008.

According to the officers in Middletown on Tuesday, there are still six prisons housing inmates in unconventional spaces because of overcrowding.

Related stories: Discussion Gets Heated At Prison Safety Task Force Meeting