Maryland state prisons are facing a staffing shortage of nearly 1,000 correctional officers, according to a review of state records by the News4 I-Team. The agency’s shortfall is the largest among the major correctional agencies in the Washington, D.C., region, according to the I-Team review.
The staffing levels are a risk to correctional officer safety and burnout, according to state union officials. State authorities acknowledge the problem and said they are attempting new recruitment campaigns to bridge the gap.
“The security of the institutions is at risk," said correctional officer Faroquah Kukoyi, who serves a union representative for state correctional employees. "The inmates, the officers, the staff are at risk.”
Investigations by the News4 I-Team
Staffing shortfalls have forced officers to regularly work dozens of hours of overtime during each pay period in 2019, Kukoyi said. She said she and several other officers have recently been assaulted by inmates, directly or indirectly attributable to fatigue or understaffing.
“If we have inattentive, tired officers, there is no way we can secure the prison," Kukoyi said.
In a series of Freedom of Information Act requests, the I-Team obtained correctional officer staffing levels at jails and prisons in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. All county and city jails had fewer officers than were authorized or budgeted. But Maryland state prisons suffered, by far, the largest shortfall.
According to the records, Fairfax County, Virginia, and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland each had a shortfall of less than 10 percent.
Virginia state prisons are authorized to have 6,165 officers but had 5,553 working at the time of the records request in 2019, a shortfall of nearly 10 percent.
Maryland state prison correctional facilities are authorized to have 5,429 officers but had 4,476 in late 2019, a shortfall of nearly 18 percent.
“If you do not have enough people to oversee the inmates, and there’s a situation that breaks out, they’re going to be overpowered,” said Patrick Moran, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3, which represents state correctional employees.
Moran said the staffing levels make it more challenging for officers to successfully operate suicide watches and prevent attacks between inmates.
“They’re doing it with fewer staff," he said. "The quality goes down, and the safety suffers as well.”
Newly appointed state corrections director Robert Green, a former head of corrections in Montgomery County, said the agency is responding with recruitment campaigns, including new video advertisements about correctional careers.
“We want to fill these jobs," Green said. "We want to get people on the floor, so we’re streamlining our processes.”
Though he acknowledged burnout among his employees, Green said the staffing levels do not increase the risk of assault by inmates against officers or other inmates.
“I don’t think our staff allow that to happen," Green said. "They do their job. They follow through on the mission everyday."
The state has 19,000 people in its custody.
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections Services said it has enrolled 420 new recruits since August, including through six “one-day hiring events.” The agency has also successfully landed about 25 new recruits from a search for candidates in Puerto Rico.
The next correctional hiring recruitment event is scheduled for Saturday, February 22, and Sunday, February 23, at Hagerstown Community College. During these one-day hiring events, candidates can complete many portions of the hiring process on the same day at the same location. Candidates can apply, provide a writing sample and interview all within a few hours. Qualified candidates will receive a conditional offer of employment on the same day.