Maryland

Union says Poplar Hill shutdown won't help prisonstaffing problems

QUANTICO, Md. - In an attempt to help the lack of staff at Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover state officials announced Monday they will temporarily shut down Poplar Hill Pre-Release Center in Quantico and send their staff to ECI. 

ECI is currently down roughly 50 correctional officers according to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. The prison has been down that amount for over half a year and officials said the move was made out of safety concerns. 

"We're making it strictly for officer safety and staffing issues, we have a lot of concerns regarding staffing at ECI," said Gary McLhinney, director of professional standards for DPSCS. 

Because of the shortage CO's as ECI had to work mandatory overtime to ensure all shifts were full staffed. Officers were subject to drafting, a method where shift leaders selected correctional officers to work overtime. 

"The abundance of drafting officers were working involuntary overtime on a last minute basis, it was a concern to the correctional officers and the correctional officers union and some management folks so we thought this would be the best way to address it," McLhinney said. 

Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland, the union that represents the correctional officers said the overtime had an effect on CO's emotional and physical well-being. Something Moran said prisoners could notice. Although he agreed that correctional officers safety is of the utmost importance, he said the move to close Poplar Hill was the wrong decision. 

The state had said 39 CO's will head from Poplar to ECI, but Moran said he has heard some CO's will quit or retire rather than make the transfer.  

"I don't think this is going to help do that," said Moran, speaking about the decision to move CO's over to help with staffing problems. " I think you're going to see a number of people with experience and the willingness to do the job probably leave because they're going to be thrown into a totally different environment."

Multiple sources tell 47 ABC the number of CO's at Poplar Hill may not even be accurate. They claim the actual number may be almost half what officials are saying.

"I think there are between 20 to 25 officers that'll move over there from what I understand," Moran said. 

McLhinney said currently there are 8 potential CO's in the academy right now and another 40 in the pipeline. Bodies that would help reduce the shortage at the prison if they make it through the process. However, Moran said even with those recruits and the additional officers from Poplar that ECI will still be understaffed. Something he believes could spell trouble for the prison in the future. 

"The reality is, unfortunately, something's going to break and that's what it's going to take to wake these people up the administration is totally asleep at the wheel here," Moran said. 

The solution from the union in terms of under staffing is to offer better wages.McLhinney said that's something the state is considering and will possibly bring to the negotiating table next month. 
  
A spokesperson for DPSCS said a majority of the inmates will be transferred to the ECI Annex where they will continue to be able to do the community programs they are currently engaged in. The rest of the inmates will be transferred to other prisons on the western shore where they will also be able to continue to participate in work-release programs. 

The spokesperson added that they intend to reopen Poplar Hill as soon as possible, however the spokesperson could not give 47 ABC a timeframe. 

Moran has said he believe Poplar Hill will remain permanently shut down. 


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