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Maryland lawmakers to investigate $129 million overtime ‘crisis’ at state prisons

The Maryland House of Delegates will hold a hearing next week to investigate staffing conditions in the Maryland prisons where overtime has more than tripled in recent years.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said her committee would take up the matter on Jan. 31. She said she believes high vacancy rates in Maryland’s prisons and hospitals are leading to unsafe conditions for staff.

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“I’m concerned with both corrections and some of our hospitals,” McIntosh said Friday. “The safety of the workers is absolutely at risk. These folks are being mistreated. It’s the amount of overtime, now forced overtime. We’ve got to find a solution to this. Pennsylvania doesn’t have this issue. What have they done? The bottom line is: We’ve got to address this.”

McIntosh cited a recent Baltimore Sun article that laid out the extent of what officials are calling a “staffing crisis” ― a shortage of about 1,000 correctional officers on top of the 929 correctional officer positions Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration has eliminated, according to legislative analysts.

In 2013, the prison system paid $41 million in overtime and counted about 5% of positions as vacant. Last year, overtime had risen to $129 million with 20% of officers’ jobs vacant.

Officers have told The Sun the vacancies and reliance on overtime are creating unsafe conditions. Too often, they say, tired officers are working 16-hour shifts. As ranks dwindle, there are fewer officers to get each other’s backs in dangerous situations and break up fights between inmates. Sometimes numbers are so low that officials are forced to lock down prisons for safety reasons, denying prisoners access to programs like GED classes.

“We absolutely must draw attention to this and try to get the administration to focus on closing this gap,” McIntosh said.

Robert L. Green, the new secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, has said he’s taking the issue seriously, streamlining the hiring process and holding one-day hiring events across the state ― in Balktimore, Frederick and Salisbury. He’s also begun recruiting from Puerto Rico.

The Hogan administration also included an $8 million incentive package in its budget that provides a signing bonus of $7,500 and a payment of $30,000 to each retirement-eligible officer who commits to stay in their current position for at least four more years.

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