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For the past several months, Colorado WINS members in DOC have been meeting to discuss the problems in their department and brainstorm solutions that would alleviate them.
WINS members came up with a list of five major issues that are driving down staff morale, jeopardizing the safety of officers and offenders, and creating issues throughout facilities.
If you’d like to talk to your legislators about these issues, please save your spot at the Denver Corrections Conference scheduled for Saturday, June 24.
Here is the document they created to summarize the problems.
The Top Five Problems in DOC
The facilities in DOC are critically understaffed. They have been for some time, but the recent move away from administrative segregation (Ad Seg) has added more offenders to the general population and has changed the makeup of the offender pool, without allocating additional staff resources to deal with the changes. For instance, a prison that used to house minimum-level offenders now has medium or even high-security offenders who would typically require a greater number of staff to manage, yet the prison is still classified as minimum, so the staffing is slotted according to that classification.
Additionally, the changes to Ad Seg have left mental health staff overworked and understaffed. They are being stretched thin by new goals for the number of group and individual therapy sessions, more reports filed on each offender, exacting on-call requirements, etc. The goals are well intentioned but DOC cannot hire and retain enough staff to execute their own directives.
The pay for DOC staff is below the market average. By the DPA’s own admission in the August 1 salary survey letter, the entire state workforce is 6% behind the market and staff in the “Enforcement and Protective Services” occupational group are 9% behind. This negatively affects recruitment and retention, because employees do not pursue or stay in jobs working with dangerous inmates when they could be making similar money elsewhere. In rural communities such as Buena Vista, low pay and high housing costs compound the staffing problem. In Parole, job postings for new officers start off at $300/month more than what seasoned officers are making, creating a morale problem in the division.
3. Misclassification of Offenders and Incidents
Offender security level reclassification is often done in order to separate inmates from living in the same facilities with other violent inmates and gang members. Since the dissolution of administrate segregation, offenders have been being incorrectly classified into lower security classes. Despite their new classification on paper, these inmates are more dangerous than what can be handled by the prison or officers. This creates a security risk for staff and other offenders alike.
Similarly, in order to keep offenders in these prisons, many incidents that occur within the facility are misclassified so as not to flag offenders as a higher security risk than they actually are. For instance, we have heard of incidents of violence perpetrated against staff, such as inmates hitting or attacking staff, as being classified (after the incident report was submitted) as “accidental contact.” This distorts the reality of what changes to Ad Seg have actually meant on the ground in facilities.
4. Parole Revocations and Release
As thoroughly covered by the media, Parole Officers who revoked an offender’s parole have seen DOC upper management release those same offenders just a few days later. This has resulted in parolee overdoses and deaths and has one parolee was even charged with murder after his revocation was dismissed. Reinstating parole despite a CPOs recommendation has been shown to be a massive threat to public safety. It is dangerous for offenders as well, who should not be on the streets because they pose a danger to themselves and others.
5. Lack of Transparency
Many of the problems in DOC stem from a serious lack of transparency from Headquarters. They have not worked in partnership with WINS since DOC Executive Director Rick Raemisch took over (the few meetings we had were contentious and one-sided). DOC management has shown a lack of desire for Interest-Based Bargaining training, a process of jointly working to solve problems, which is at the root of Partnership. Decisions and policies from HQ are made without input from the people who will be impacted by the decision, namely front-line staff such as correctional officers, mental health workers and parole officers.
Additionally, it seems that many decisions are based on figures that have been manipulated (such as the misclassification of incidents mentioned earlier), hidden truths and secret agendas. This was clearly illustrated in DOC HQ’s recent $280,000 whistle-blower settlement with one of their top statisticians, former CDOC Director of Office of Planning and Analysis Maureen O’Keefe, in which she claimed the department skewed figures related to their reports on mentally ill and violent prisoners.