Prison in Jessup curbing overtime for security officers to save money Some inmate activities are being curtailed at Patuxent Institution

November 13, 1997|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Hoping to avoid a $500,000 shortfall, officials at Patuxent Institution have reduced security overtime -- cutting some inmate activities and leaving some security posts with fewer or no officers.

The state had limited the maximum-security prison in Jessup to $1.6 million in overtime for the fiscal year that began July 1. But prison officials say overtime spending was on a pace to exceed $2 million.

The reduction in overtime, announced in a prison memorandum obtained by The Sun, took effect Oct. 20.

Union officials, who met last night with correctional officers from Patuxent and other state prisons, said they are concerned that such security-force reductions are threatening the staffs' safety.

"Anytime you talk about cutting security, you're talking about lessening safety," said George T. Johnson, special representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents Maryland's correctional officers.

"It's not only at Patuxent," Johnson said. "They're doing a little bit of backsliding in other facilities. Hopefully we can put a lid on this stuff really quickly."

Johnson said he plans to do a walk-through next week of Patuxent -- which has 368 uniformed officers and about 700 inmates. He also plans to discuss security when he meets next week with Stuart O. Simms, the new secretary of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Patuxent officials say the security overtime reduction won't compromise safety inside or outside the prison.

"We think that we have plenty of security on all units," Robert Spangler, Patuxent's assistant warden, said in support of the new policy. "The object of the reduction is to stabilize the overtime so it fits within the budget."

The changes include replacing officers in six of seven prison towers -- which have one officer apiece -- with two armed officers who will patrol the grounds around the prison. Spangler said an escape has never occurred with roving officers on patrol.

During recreation time, which is being limited to Mondays and Fridays on the 8-a.m.-to-4-p.m. shift, one officer will take the Tower 5 post. And outside-sponsored activities such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and church programs no longer will be held Mondays, which will save the prison from having to assign an officer to supervise those events.

Staffing of the prison's property section has been reduced from two officers to one. The number of officers supervising a Patuxent Institution facility that houses 86 women will be cut from six to five.

An officer no longer will be on the third tier of the prison's D wing. That tier, which has 43 inmates, holds Patuxent's most responsible prisoners, Spangler said.

Spangler said a security supervisor regularly patrols the entire facility, and two other officers in D wing can respond to emergencies or other concerns. But he said officials believe that inmates on the third tier won't cause trouble.

"These inmates are infraction-free," he said. "These are people who demonstrated the best demeanor."

All of the security changes are reviewed constantly, said Cindy Riceberg, a spokeswoman for the prison. Each of the changes is scheduled for a formal assessment in the spring.

"As the need arises, changes will be overruled by the director," Riceberg said.

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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