Senator Kissel Questions Staffing Levels & Safety At Connecticut Prisons

September 9, 2003

Senator John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, ranking senator on the Judiciary Committee, tomorrow will tell the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee (PRI) that he continues to be concerned about staffing levels at state prisons, and how those staffing levels affect the safety of the prison staff, the inmates and the surrounding community.

Senator Kissel, whose district includes three communities – Enfield, Somers and Suffield – that host six of the state’s correctional facilities, will attend the committee’s staff briefing and public hearing regarding its ongoing study of corrections officer staffing on Wednesday, September 10, 2003

“I understand that the study hasn’t been completed and we’re still in the investigative phase, but this preliminary report shows that our corrections’ staff have justifiable reasons to be concerned. There are not enough staff currently employed to do the job without consistently asking employees to work overtime. This is wrong. It’s one thing if there is an employment shortage, as there is with nursing, but this is different. We can hire new entry-level corrections officers and promote from within. You can’t keep squeezing people when the safety of employees, inmates and the public at large is what is at risk.” said Senator Kissel.

According to the preliminary report on corrections officer staffing, the Department of Corrections uses a number of factors to calculate staffing needs, including a so-called shift relief factor formula based on staff vacations, holidays, personal days, sick leave, workers’ compensation, training days, military leave, disciplinary action and other matters. As explained in the preliminary report, using the shift relief factor shows the department was about 18 percent short of projected staff needs in March 2003. Covering staff shortfalls requires overtime and reassigning staff.

“An 18% shortfall in staffing levels is, at best, a tremendous burden on current employees and their families and, at worst, a significant danger to corrections officers, inmates and the people of Connecticut as a whole.” said Senator Kissel.

“The Program Review and Investigations Committee is to be commended for its work to date on this important issue, and I look forward to seeing their final report and recommendations. As ranking senator on the Judiciary Committee, the committee that has cognizance over the Department of Corrections, and as a legislator whose district has more prisons than anyone else, these issues are very important to me. Corrections officers perform a dangerous job that most people wouldn’t want to do. They always have to be vigilant, literally ‘on guard’. When it comes to understaffing our prisons, the state should not hobble-along over-relying on double-shifts and overtime. That’s not a solution. We need to hire and train enough new employees, and promote from within, so as to create the safest correctional facilities for our correctional officers, inmates, and the people of the State of Connecticut.” said Senator Kissel.

The Program Review and Investigations Committee is expected to finalize its report on corrections officers staffing by the end of the year. Its findings and recommendations could lead to proposed legislation next year.