Former ECI CO: The Prison is a "Ticking Time Bomb" - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Former ECI CO: The Prison is a "Ticking Time Bomb"

Posted: Jun 27, 2018 5:09 PM Updated:

WESTOVER, Md. - A recently retired correctional officer from the Eastern Correctional Institute in Somerset County has sounded the alarm by saying if the staffing issues are not addressed at the prison, another incident similar to what happened at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna is imminent. 

The former officer, who did not wish to be identified, but rather go as "Chaz," spoke to WBOC on Wednesday.  Chaz first spoke about the incident that took place on Thursday of last week at the prison.  Chaz, who said he speaks to plenty of current COs at the prison, said Thursday that close to 600 inmates refused to go back into their cells.  Because of that, is what an all hands on deck situation to get everything under control as quickly and as safely as possible.  Chaz said that he and other COs believe the inmates are beginning to take a stand against the conditions in the prison, and because of the amount of open positions, Chaz said that presents a very dangerous work environment for the COs at ECI.

On Wednesday, WBOC also spoke with Gary McLhinney, the Director of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.  

"It was a peaceful demonstration," said McLhinney, referring to the incident Thursday at ECI.  "By some inmates who were upset about lack of recreation time and some issues involving cable TV."  And McLhinney went on to add that during Thursday's incident, the prison was fully staffed and equipped.

While the shifts at the prison may be fully staffed, Chaz said its the number of open positions that is creating the biggest problem at ECI.  Chaz said that he retired in May because he was concerned for his own safety and when he left, the prison was 120 officers and 15 supervisors short.  And Chaz believes what happened in Smyrna could happen at ECI.

"Look at Lt. Floyd and what happened to him.  That could happen any given day to any correctional officer even if we are fully staffed.  But now the odds have gone up because of the low staffing and the conditions."

And union leaders for the COs at ECI also believe things are trending in a negative direction.  Jack Hughes with AFSCME said officers are working a lot of overtime and are being called in to work all of the times.

"The officers, you can't sustain this when you don't have staff," Hughes said.  Staff that has worked 16 hours and then you draft them on their days off.  They don't get to spend them with their families.  They're just walking zombies.  They can't sustain this."

McLhinney said the state is always looking to add more staff, not just in response to incidents, like Thursday.

"Thursday didn't change our focus on recruiting.  It's always been up, we are doing everything we possibly can," McLhinney said.

On Thursday during the incident, Maryland State Senator Jim Mathias said he stopped by ECI to get a better understanding on what was going on and why the issue was happening.  Mathias said during his few hours at the prison, he saw some things, and some people that were a cause for concern.

"When I'm looking in those tired face and when I am looking at these people that took the oath in order to maintain the safety for themselves and the inmates here, I'm hearing that its just not working.  I'm seeing the anxiety.  I'm seeing the stress," Mathias said.

The senator said he has been trying for two years to get the state of Maryland to address that issues at the prison and is now calling for Governor Hogan to make a trip to ECI.

"For Governor Hogan personally and his administration to come here, see first hand, reach out for solutions that I know exists, and let's make this community safe," said Mathias.

State officials maintain they are doing everything to address any concerns at ECI and Thursdays incident was something that was handled and is in the past.  Not indicative of any future issues.

"I think it worked the way it should work.  The plans were followed," McLhinney said speaking about Thursdays incident.  "The administrations and its correctional officers responded professionally like they always do and I think they did an excellent job in handling the situation.  There was never a threat to public safety."

But Chaz believes what happened last week at ECI is just the tip of the iceberg if changes are not made at the Somerset County prison.

"The writing is on the wall.  That's why I left.  It's a ticking time bomb.  The place is going to blow up and someone is going to get hurt, if not killed."




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