Cumberland Times-News

Local News

July 26, 2013

Union continues to question why NBCI lockdown not imposed

Corrections officials dispute ‘We don’t know’ statement

CRESAPTOWN — Union members who met with Secretary Gary Maynard of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and his top leadership team said they asked why the North Branch Correctional Institution was not put on lockdown after intelligence officers intercepted an inmate phone call stating an assault was going to occur.

The department responded, “We don’t know. We’ll find out,” the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 3 said in an email to the Times-News.

“If the security chief at a prison believes strongly enough that there is a credible enough threat of violence against a correctional officer to inform officers of this threat at roll call meetings before shifts begin then why did management decide to do nothing to prevent it?” said Patrick Moran. “Correctional officers put their lives on the line every day and they have to have confidence that those higher up the chain of command have their back. NBCI officers are losing confidence in leaders.”

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, however, said that officials made it clear that Deputy Secretary J. Michael Stouffer is looking into exactly what was said about intelligence at roll call meetings. The department did not respond to AFSCME’s questions about intelligence at NBCI with “we don’t know, we’ll find out,” department officials said in a statement.

Union officials said that officers were warned July 23 during two separate meetings that an assault was imminent, but no further action was taken. Later in the day, two officers were assaulted by inmates who are gang members, AFSCME said.

According to AFSCME, seven officers have been assaulted by inmates at NBCI recently and five more officers were injured when responding to the assaults.

“Intelligence officers receive or develop intelligence every day and in every institution. Some of it is valid, and some of it isn’t. That said, threats against officers are taken very seriously,” department officials said.

“However, locking down an entire institution based on intelligence that may or may not be actionable isn’t good correctional practice, and our custody staff understands that. It can actually increase tensions between correctional officers and inmates, which puts our staff in greater danger. That is why lockdowns happen infrequently, and why instead we rely on modified inmate movement, and sectional or tier lock downs as necessary. This kind of proactive management of assaultive or problematic inmates keeps our staff safer. As such, during the recent incidents, NBCI has either been on lockdown status, has operated on a controlled movement schedule, or has modified inmate activities based on need.”

The department emphasized that correctional officers put their lives on the line every day, and their safety is its top concern. “Secretary Maynard and Deputy Secretary Stouffer have both been personally involved with the strategies to deal with the recent increase in violence at NBCI, including moving problematic offenders out of state. That is also why since 2007, we’ve made this system safer than it has ever been for our officers and custody staff. Through FY13, serious assaults on staff system-wide are down 60 percent vs. FY07.”

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