Source: American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union
Correctional officers across the country face increasingly dire work conditions as COVID-19 spreads in correctional facilities, threatening the lives of both offenders and staff
WASHINGTON — On a conference call Thursday afternoon, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown stressed the urgency of fighting for state and local aid while listening to the stories of front-line corrections officers. The officers, one of whom was infected with COVID-19, gave their first-hand accounts of the dire conditions in correctional facilities in their communities, as facilities across the country continue to face a shortage of personal protective equipment and a spike in infections. As officers get sick with COVID-19, those able to show up to work struggle to maintain safety and security for both offenders and staff amid understaffing and a lack of resources.
The crisis reveals why the next stimulus bill in Congress should recognize the service of these courageous, everyday heroes and ensure that public services, and the dedicated workers who provide them, are protected and kept on the job. State and local governments are struggling to stay open and need urgent assistance from Congress and the president to cope with rapidly decreasing revenues. They are being forced to consider dangerous layoffs at a time when the demand for services is soaring. Public service workers – including health care workers, correctional officers, sanitation workers and custodians who maintain our schools and keep them disinfected – are essential to fighting this pandemic and reopening our economy. We can do neither if we lay them off.
AFSCME President Lee Saunders said:
“The state and local aid received in the first few relief packages from Congress amounted to little more than a drop in the bucket. We need a bold and ambitious response proportionate to the magnitude of this crisis. This is an unprecedented moment – the gravest public health emergency in a century, which has triggered an economic nosedive and massive disruption to American life. We’re doing our jobs; Congress should do theirs. It is time to fund the front lines.”
Brian Miller, a correction officer, Marion Corrections Institute in Marion, Ohio, said:
“We need PPE. We need more funding. ….If there are layoffs, it will be absolute chaos. If Congress doesn’t deliver additional funding and PPE to us, they are betraying us. They might as well cut our throats because layoffs and PPE shortages are a death sentence to the corrections officers and the inmates. When I kick this disease, I will be back on the front lines. I hope Congress will fund us and have our backs when I do.”
Michael Rider, a correction officer at Franklin Medical Center and Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, said:
“We have been given surgical masks, but surgical masks only help prevent you from spreading the virus. They don’t protect you from contracting it the way an N95 mask does. They make us go through all of these security measures taking our temperature and asking us screening questions, and then they hand us a mask that does not protect us as we walk into a war zone. We need the federal government to stand up and do better by workers on the front lines.”
Steve Wales, a correction officer at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville, Connecticut, said:
“Because so many officers are out sick with COVID-19, we are dangerously understaffed. With mandatory overtime in play, I have worked 40 days straight — and most of those have been 16-hour days. And I’m not the only one. …We are putting our lives on the line every day. We do this because it is our duty to protect our communities. We do this because we care. So, it is disgusting. It’s disgraceful. And it’s disrespectful to public service workers when we do not have adequate PPE or when we do not have adequate funding to support our work.”