July 17, 2018
To the News Media,
My name, for purposes of this letter to protect my identity, is Officer Bernie Lomax, Correctional Officer II, at ECI. I am 55 years old and have approximately 6 years tenure at ECI. Early this past week a union steward passed out a paper that had the names and numbers to our local delegates and Senators that represent the Somerset, Worcester, and Wicomico Counties. I have taken the initiative to call each and everyone on the list, again, to update the ongoing problems and issues at ECI. I sent emails to the delegates before, with little response, so I am sending this as an update to the quickly deteriorating conditions at ECI.
First, let me start by saying that the overtime and draft situation is at a dangerous level, caused directly by the 150+ shortage of officers at ECI. The Supervision,( i.e.: Lieutenants, Captains, Majors) have all said that they have “Never seen it this bad at ECI” over the course of the 25-30 years they have worked here in regards to officer shortage, overtime and drafts. When drafted we are forced to work the next shift after working our shift, and most of the time, we find out minutes before our shift is over, and sometimes as we are about to punch out at the time clock. Many times we have to work our next regular shift as well, which means we are getting less than 7 hrs of sleep between a double shift and the next shift. That wouldn’t be too bad if it only happened once a month, but it is happening every other week.
There is no Morale; we basically are forced to work at least 1 of our 3 day weekend days, as well as 1 or 2 of our 4 week days off. Lately, there have been some officers that have been drafted and pre-drafted as many as 2 times in a 7 day period. At this point we can’t even make plans with family and friends because we never know when we are going to be drafted. On top of that, we are forced to work training days where we have NO training, and we get NO pay for those days either. They say we are being compensated for those days, but that compensation never shows up on our paycheck. Tell me of any person who doesn’t mind working 6 days with No pay. I do not know of any CO at ECI who is not exhausted, both physically and mentally. This is Unacceptable.
We desperately need to HIRE more CO’s, but to date, since mid 2016, there have only been a handful of candidates hired at ECI to replace the 18 officers lost with the indictments, as well as those who have quit, retired, or passed away. Again, at ECI alone, we are understaffed by more than 150 people. Why?
One of the causes that we, as officers, are hearing that DPSCS is having hiring new officers is the use of a polygraph test. We are told that each applicant is tested anywhere between 4-7 hours. Why? That really seems excessive, we are correctional officers not FBI/CIA officers. We understand that we need trustworthy CO’s, especially since the indictments, but the polygraph has a 98% failure rate. That is unacceptable. Perhaps the Questions and Results need to be replaced with more relevant items? There are other variables involved with the hiring process that also take a very long time. It took over 1 year from the time I put in my application to finishing my training before I finally started work. I know other candidates took up to 2 years.
Safety and Security MUST come first at ECI. We can no longer afford to “gamble” with our lives within the fences at ECI. Inmates watch and listen to every little thing, believe me, they know what’s going on, most of the time before the CO’s do. They are very angry about being on lock down and having their privileges taken away. That may not seem like an important issue to most people, but their anger has to go somewhere, and that means the officers. The “Peaceful Protest” that happened in June was not peaceful. Several inmates had containers of boiling liquids ready to throw on the nearest CO. The only reason the situation did not escalate is because our Tactical Unit came in with shotguns and canines. I can’t help but think about what happened in the Delaware prison, knowing that it is only a matter of time before an officer at ECI will be severely injured, if not killed, trying to protect the public, fellow officers, and yes, inmates as well.
In closing, our officers, are tired, short-tempered, and frustrated with little hope in site. Many are moving on to other avenues of work, however, many of us wish to continue our career here, but we NEED your help. Please take time from your busy schedules to get to the truth as to what is happening. It is not just ECI; other facilities throughout Maryland are having problems as well. Only from our elected officials can we get some relief. It has become very apparent that the upper management of DPSCS does not care about the people below them. They only care about the money they are saving by forcing us to work like dogs. Bottom line, as humans, we can run a marathon for a day or so, but not each and every day for months and years.
Thank You in advance for all that you do and for any help you can provide in our time of need.
Correctional Officer II