mike vargo and collin provost
A screenshot of Mike Vargo, President of AFSCME Local 1565, on right and Collin Provost, president of AFSCME Local 391, on left during a Sept. 25, 2023 remote press conference

Unions representing Connecticut correction officers expressed disappointment Monday that state lawmakers will not consider proposals to boost prison staffing levels when they convene for a special legislative session on Tuesday.

Members of two AFSCME Council 4 locals held a virtual press conference to stress the urgency of addressing recent hikes in staff assaults by increasing the number of frontline positions required during prison shifts. 

The state legislature will convene for a brief session Tuesday, when lawmakers are expected to confirm a nominee to the state Supreme Court, pass legislation moving Connecticut’s presidential primary date, and consider changes to campaign finance policy

Although prison staffing levels are not on the agenda, the unions argued that they should be, given that staff assaults have roughly doubled since 2019.

“While they meet, the safety of both staff and inmates is on the line in these facilities,” Patrick McGoldrick, an officer at Garner Correctional Institution, said. “We need more posts to keep our facilities safe, not just in the form of new hires, but more frontline staff.”

“Posts,” in DOC jargon, represents the number of frontline positions on a shift. While posts impact how many officers are assigned to a prison, in most cases the position must be filled even if the assigned officer is out sick or tasked with some other responsibility like training. 

The unions have argued that state policymakers have failed to increase the number of posts to support new policy initiatives aimed at increasing required out-of-cell time for offenders and reducing use of solitary confinement. 

On Monday, labor leaders said the lack of adequate staffing has had violent consequences, including an August incident, in which two correction officers were stabbed while escorting an incarcerated man at Garner CI. 

“We’re absolutely confident that something could be done [during Tuesday’s session] and if not right away, we’ve been asking for months,” Collin Provost, president of AFSCME Local 391, said. “We should have had it done yesterday.”

Lawmakers are not likely to change Tuesday’s agenda to accommodate the unions’ requests. Barring action this week, Provost said legislators should make sure to address the issue when they return for their regular session early next year. 

In a statement Monday, Adam Joseph, Gov. Ned Lamont’s director of communications, said that the governor and DOC Commissioner Angel Quiros agreed that the safety of the agency’s staff should be a top priority. 

“The governor and his staff are currently in discussions with the union that represents corrections staff regarding ways to enhance safety measures and are working toward a solution to ensure that these facilities are meeting the highest standards of safety and compliance,” Joseph said.