We Make Connecticut Happen

"Cuts Are A Threat To All"

AFSCME Local 391 President Collin Provost.

Correctional cuts a threat to all
By Collin Provost
Journal Inquirer, June 3, 2016

State correctional officers walk the most dangerous beat in Connecticut. We work behind tall walls topped with razor wire to help protect the public from the inmates inside. But these barriers do little to protect from the dangers and stress inside our prisons.

Every day, our workplace is fraught with risks. Physical and sexual assaults. Injuries incurred while breaking up inmate fights. Urine and feces hurled at us. Unending piles of disciplinary reports. These are among the many incidents and indignities that I’ve witnessed first-hand in my many years as a correction officer and that my brothers and sisters in blue describe with irony as “another day at the office.”

Now, thanks to the governor’s austerity budget, the Department of Correction has been forced to cut staffing levels, laying off nearly 150 front-line staff while decreasing post assignments within the facilities as well as the supervision of inmates and response staff. Slashing the prison workforce — with more layoffs and service reductions to come — simultaneously impacts the safety and security of those within the walls of our institutions and the communities our staff has vowed to protect.

These budget cuts could not come at a worse time. The percentages of assaults on staff, fights, and other illegal activities within the prison have declined (as the DOC recently told the Journal Inquirer). Our union believes these numbers demonstrate a direct correlation of the higher standards of officer and staff training (conducted at the Maloney Center for Training and Staff Development-DOC Academy) and the proper placement of post assignments and supervisor assignments to the facilities.

We understood what we signed up for when we went to work in the state prison system. It’s our responsibility to protect and to serve, to keep our facilities secure and our neighborhoods safe from felons the justice system has deemed necessary to be removed from society for a period of time to correct their behavior.

There’s no denying that doing our job well comes at a personal cost. Countless difficult experiences and memories take their toll on officers. Studies show that correction officers have an average life expectancy of 59 years, according to the Denver Post.

And, it’s not just the officers who are affected. When you sign on to work at a Connecticut state prison, your family signs on, too. Our jobs bring a great deal of stress to everyone.

Again, I’m not asking for sympathy. But I am asking what good will come of an austerity budget that puts short-term savings ahead of safety and security. Post reductions and layoffs should be the absolute last cut made to public safety, not the first and largest. The state of Connecticut can work together to find alternate means of saving money without jeopardizing the safety of my sisters and brothers who keep it safe.

Our unions have provided the governor, state legislators, and our department with cost saving ideas to help maintain our commitment to public safety. Here are a few:

Conserve energy costs through the use solar fields, roof-top units, and hot-water units throughout the prison system, along with the establishment of a “lights out” electricity curfew on inmates.

Eliminate the use of take-home vehicles by wardens, deputy wardens, and management officials.
Reduce the DOC management and supervisory bureaucracy.

On top of department-specific savings ideas, state employee unions have provided the Malloy administration with a blueprint for protecting vital public services by curbing the costly and wasteful use of outside contractors and consultants; flattening the managerial and political bureaucracy; and implementing other ideas for cost savings and government transformation that have come from state employees and their representatives.

To date, none of our ideas have been implemented. Instead, we’re left with a diminished department scarred by front-line staff reductions and post eliminations that are dangerous to all.

Must the price of the governor’s “new economic reality” be prison riots and correctional staff being carted out on stretchers?

Connecticut can do better than that.

The writer is a correctional officer and president of AFSCME Local 391, the Connecticut State Prison Employees Union.

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