Corrections officers demand more staffing

8-1-2018

Statement by the AFSCME Council 5 Correctional Policy Committee:

"Before we start, we want to send our condolences and our love to the family and friends of our fallen correctional brother, Joseph Gomm. He was a proud and beloved member of our correctional family. We want to assure Joe’s family, friends and coworkers that we will not let his death be in vain.

Today, we are demanding changes to staffing levels and inmate discipline to prevent any other correctional deaths in our prisons. To do anything less would dishonor Joe’s memory. One death is too many.

Our mission as correctional officers is very simple and very clear. It’s to make our facilities safe places for staff to come and work, for offenders to earn a chance at rehabilitation and do their time, and to protect the public. But after a day of keeping our coworkers, our institutions and our communities safe, we want to return home safely to our families, too.

While we understand that working as correctional officers brings a degree of risk, that risk can and should be minimized. We should not have to work with staffing levels and policies that increase that risk. We believe Joe’s death was preventable.

To let you know how bad correctional officer staffing levels get, let us give you a few examples. At Stillwater, we have blocks with four officers monitoring 280 inmates. At Moose Lake, we can have 400 inmates with two staff in the yard. You do the math.

You all know the number of assaults on staff has skyrocketed since January.

The crisis that the Department of Corrections is in today has to be acknowledged and responsibility taken by both Department leadership and the Legislature. No single individual is to be blamed or used as a scape goat.  We want to say loud and clear that we need more funding, so we can have safe staffing levels.

We have been going to the Legislature every year for a decade now, every single week the Legislature is in session, asking for more correctional officers.

We are not asking for more correctional officers and staffing any more. We are demanding it.

We will be looking for partners within the DOC and the Legislature willing to help us honor Joe Gomm by taking action. We need legislators who will move forward with us, and to ensure no one else is lost.

These are our demands.

DEMAND ONE:

We need more funding for more correctional officers. We need a clean, bipartisan, stand-alone bill to address the need for safe staffing in all DOC facilities. We have asked repeatedly for more funding for more correctional officers, and had bills not even leave committee.

Staffing shortages are a big problem statewide. It is our number one issue.

The day Joe Gomm died was a very bad day at Stillwater. This could have happened at any of our facilities at any time. We need more funding, for more staffing.

We demand these steps also be taken to provide immediate help:

  • We want vacant staff positions filled immediately.
  • We demand all officers working out of class be returned to work as correctional officers immediately.
  • We demand that MINNCOR no longer be allowed to dictate that they will keep the industrial shops open when we are short-staffed. We recognize the need for inmate programming, but not at the expense of the safety of our correctional workers.
  • We demand that management stop forcing staff to work overtime to fill staffing shortages.

Those are stop-gap solutions. More funding is the only answer.

DEMAND TWO:

Eliminate the 90-day stepdown program and revert back to previous discipline guidelines immediately. Before the department instituted this new policy for segregation, we told them they’d need more correctional officers. We were already down in numbers and didn’t have the staffing to handle this. They did it anyway. Now the number of assaults is up, way up. At Oak Park Heights, we’ve charged four attempted murders internally just since March.

We believe this new isolation policy is creating an unsafe environment for correctional officers, and the rising number of assaults unfortunately proves us out.

DEMAND THREE

We need the tools, equipment and training to do our job safely for the facility and the public. That includes cameras in our industry areas. But again, the biggest thing is more people: More correctional officers, more correctional manufacturing specialists in industry; more LPNs, more food service staff.

We want to reiterate that everything we do today, we do in Joe’s honor. None of us works to die, and this can never happen again!

The AFSCME Council 5 Correctional Policy Committee represents 2,500 correctional officers and workers in 11 state correctional facilities. The representatives elected by their locals include:

John C. Hillyard, president

Jeff Vars

Dan Gorman

Sam Marks

Sam Moore

Anthony Pietrzak

Cami Basta

Jim Barbo

Glenn Lisowy

Chris Bengston

Rick Neyssen

Gerald Firkus

Tim Danger

Derek Magle

Chris Wendover

Anna Koktan

Tim Matson

These correctional leaders and locals are part of AFSCME Council 5, which represents 43,000 workers in the public and private sector across the state of Minnesota. We advocate for excellence in services for the public, dignity in the workplace, and opportunity and prosperity for all workers.

John P. Westmoreland, Council 5 executive director

Tim Henderson, Council 5 associate director

Eric Jacobson, Council 5 correctional liaison