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Latest News - December 2014

November 30, 2014
Union official: Topeka Correctional Facility violates work agreement with OT, training
Source: TOPEKACAPITALJOURNAL.COM
By:
Tim Carpenter

Kansas prison administrators violated work agreements at Topeka Correctional Facility by assigning probationary corrections officers to train newer employees and by mandating officers endure back-to-back eight-hour shifts, state and union officials said.

Activities inconsistent with employee work agreements stemmed from years of persistent understaffing and turnover at the TCF facility for women and other prisons in the Kansas Department of Corrections’ system. Each of these facilities operates with minimum staffing deficits of 10 percent.

A corrections official confirmed forced overtime was routine and would continue indefinitely at state prison facilities.

Use of rookies to train their co-workers wasn’t widespread, the agency said, and an order had been issued to require reliance upon “qualified instructors.” It is unclear whether TCF and other prison sites halted deployment of probationary officers as trainers.

Rebecca Proctor, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said the violations raised questions about adequacy of inmate security at the prisons, the welfare of employees assigned to those units and the safety of people living near facilities in Topeka, Lansing, Hutchinson, El Dorado and elsewhere.

“It’s unfortunate,” she said, “because corrections are one of those areas that impact everybody.”

Jeremy Barclay, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said KOSE filed a grievance about assignment of probationary officers to perform on-the-job training with newcomers at TCF. He said it occurred once in the 2014 calendar year and the employee was within one month of attaining permanent status.

However, a memorandum issued by Jan Clausing, the KDOC’s human resources director, referenced multiple instances of probationary officers delivering the training. She investigated the TCF grievance claim.

“In reviewing the information submitted related to the grievance, we learned that corrections officers, just months shy of receiving permanent status, were utilized,” Clausing’s memo said.

Clausing concluded probationary officers who had been selected for these training assignments “displayed leadership qualities, a good grasp of correctional practices and were willing to fill the role of on-the-job training leaders.”

“Regardless of good intentions and willingness to participate, at the present time, this practice is a violation of the supplemental agreement,” her memo said. “The facility in question (TCF) has agreed to discontinue this practice.”

KDOC spokesman Barclay said mandatory, forced overtime had been authorized since 2009 in an agreement between KOSE and the state agency. The labor agreement stated “no employees shall be mandated to work more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period,” but Barclay had no explanation for the mandatory double shifts.

Proctor said TCF employees were informed the prison’s management had “no choice but to require workers to stay over for a second full shift because there was no one to relieve them.”

A TCF corrections officer, who didn’t want his name published, said an average of one to three officers on each of three shifts were ordered to work 16 hours without a break. Hundreds of thousands of dollars has been devoted to overtime pay at TCF rather than pay for recruitment of new officers, the officer said.

“They’re not solving anything. They’re forcing officers to work 16,”
said the officer, who said exhausted employees had fallen asleep on the job. “It’s like a ‘Walking Dead’ TV show.”

Proctor, who heads the union serving 9,000 Kansas executive branch employees, said ongoing staffing problems at state prisons were placing officers at unnecessary peril. She said personnel shortages contributed to violence at Lansing Correctional Facility in June that involved attacks on 10 officers, including one who had a section of his forehead chewed off by an inmate.

Barclay said overall staffing numbers at the state’s corrections system hadn’t been unusually low and that responsibilities of a correctional officer would always be difficult.

“They face the challenge of working with inmates who’ve been deemed fit to be incarcerated for felony crimes,” he said.

Job vacancy rates at KDOC facilities appear to range from 10 percent to 20 percent. At TCF, Barclay said, 14.9 percent of 140 positions were unfilled.

Proctor said the state’s inability to sufficiently hire and retain officers was a byproduct of low base pay. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the national median salary for corrections officers was $38,970. In Kansas, starting pay at state prisons was $13.61 an hour, which converted to $28,308 annually.

The last across-the-board raise for corrections officers approved by the Kansas Legislature was in 2009, she said.

“All Kansas adult correctional facilities are operating short-staffed,” Proctor said. “Pay is a primary driver of the recruitment and retention issues.”

She said Lansing Correctional Facility served as a state-financed training laboratory for officers who could gain necessary experience before making the transition to a nearby federal prison where wages started at $39,012 per year. Salaries for officers working at county jails in Kansas can exceed KDOC’s introductory wages, she said.

Identifying state resources to upgrade salaries of Kansas correctional officers will be difficult given a projected state government budget deficit in the current fiscal year of $280 million.

Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said during a legislative hearing that lawmakers might be more inclined to consider improving compensation if corrections officers voluntarily left the classified employee system and participated in a retirement plan requiring smaller contributions by the state. State civil service employees have limited job protections.

Proctor said the majority of KOSE members working at correctional facilities weren’t interested in such a trade.

“The ones we’ve talked to — absolutely not. They’re scared of being randomly dismissed,” she said.

 

 


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