AP NEWS

Union: Jail staff shortages lead to forced overtime, turmoil

January 24, 2020 GMT

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Staffing shortages at two Maine jails are leading to forced overtime among correctional officers and turmoil among staff, a union representing the guards said.

A National Correction Employee Union official sent a letter via email Thursday to sheriffs and officials in York and Cumberland counties, urging them to undo a contract that moved dozens of inmates from the York jail to the Cumberland jail and find another place to put the overflow of inmates, the Portland Press Herald reported.

The $350,000 contract was meant to ease overcrowding at the York jail, but the Cumberland facility is also short-staffed and struggling to hire and retain guards, the union said. The shortage has resulted in 600 forced overtime shifts at Cumberland in the second half of 2019, the union said, and there have been 80 so far in January.

Forced overtime occurs when no one volunteers to take overtime shifts necessary to maintain minimum staffing levels at the jails.

Overtime shifts have drawn new scrutiny since July, when a Cumberland County officer caused a fatal crash that killed a 9-year-old girl when he fell asleep after working multiple overtime shifts in a row. The overtime shifts he took were voluntary, the sheriff’s office said.

Five Cumberland county corrections officers have been punished with one-day suspensions without pay for refusing to work a forced overtime shift in recent months, according to the Local 110 President Dennis Welch. The workers have done forced overtime shifts in the past, Welch said, and they refused in these instances for personal reasons, including exhaustion and an illness that was confirmed by a doctor’s note.

Cumberland County sheriff Kevin Joyce confirmed the five disciplinary cases but wouldn’t comment further, citing personnel confidentiality rules. Joyce wrote in an email that “he was kind of shocked” about the claims regarding 600 forced overtime shifts at Cumberland County jail and that he would be doing research to check the union’s numbers.

Moving the inmates from Cumberland County back to York would have little impact on corrections officers because Cumberland wouldn’t be able shut down any housing pods or reduce posts, said Cumberland County manager Jim Gailey.

A message left by the paper with York County Sheriff William King Jr. was not returned Thursday evening.