Nearly five months after the layoffs began, the presidents of three bargaining groups representing 4,800 Correction Department employees wrote Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to tell him they’re concerned about their safety.
More than 100 Correction Department staff were laid off in April and several posts were eliminated, at the same time staffing levels on shifts were reduced, according to the union president’s letter to Malloy.
Rudy Demiraj, president of AFSCME Local 387, said their biggest concern is the number of “post” reductions. He said a reduction in posts means there are fewer required locations that Correction Officers have to be at in a facility, which means it will take longer if there is an assault for other officers to get to that post. Also, with fewer officers inside the facility, the longer it will take for officers to respond to an incident, including assaults on staff or inmates, Demiraj said.
Correction Commissioner Scott Semple said Monday in a letter to Malloy that they reduced the number of posts by 56 positions, or 2.5 percent, across the agency’s 15 facilities.
Over the past year, the incarcerated population has dropped from 16,141 to 15,087 inmates, which is a decrease of about 6.5 percent, according to Semple.
“Looking back to 1997, a time with a comparable incarcerated population to that of today, the agency’s 18 facilities operated with a total of 2,171 staffing posts. Fast forward 19 years, the department operates 15 facilities with a total of 2,150 posts (even after a reduction of 56 posts) and approximately 500 more inmates.”
Demiraj said he’s not disputing Semple’s numbers, but he added that it’s happening at the same time the department is facing increased pressure to lower overtime costs.
Demiraj said they’ve been sending officers home an hour before their shift is scheduled to end.
“Every day there’s one less correction officer in a facility, is a day that a person is not there to respond to a fellow officer or keep the inmates safe,” Demiraj said. “We protect the public, we protect the staff, and the inmates.”
He said the current situation is creating an “unpredictable” environment that’s likely to lead to an increase in assaults on staff. In the letter, the three bargaining unit presidents cited at least eight incidents that have occurred at the facilities dating back to 2014.
On June 8 an inmate at MacDougall Walker Correctional Institute in Suffield attacked a counseling supervisor and two Correction officers. Then on April 30 there was a seven-inmate “melee at Manson Youth Institute in Cheshire that left several staff injured.” Those were the two most recent incidents, but Demiraj said there are serious incidents that happen every month in the facilities.
Semple, however, said the number of incidents is down.
Comparing the period between mid-March and early August with the same period last year, “assaults by inmates are down a significant 41.5 percent. Additionally, inmate on inmate fights, for the same period, are down 8.3 percent,” Semple said.
Semple said for that same period overtime costs are down about $8.8 million.
“Regardless of the numbers, we continue to assess data with an eye toward future trends and adjusting our policies; let me reassure you that safety of the public, staff, and offender population remains a top priority of this agency,” Semple said.
But Demiraj feels like the data won’t help prevent the inevitable.
“The recent layoffs make our facilities inherently more dangerous and will wind up driving up overtime costs,” Demiraj and the other presidents wrote in the letter.
He said Connecticut must do better and take steps to prevent injury.
The union is asking Malloy to re-establish a Correction Staff Health and Safety Subcommittee, which was created in 2009 under former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell. It also wants him to join them at the facilities to hear firsthand from Correction officers about the increased dangers they face on the job.
It’s unclear if Malloy will take them up on their offer.