What’s happening?

Officials from the union representing state correctional workers said on Monday that Maryland state officials have neglected prisons as workers contend with a myriad of issues including staff shortages, unsafe conditions inside of the facilities, prolonged stays for inmates, lack of communication about COVID-19 cases, and a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and tests for workers and inmates. 

If prisons don’t get more staff, workers worry that incidents such as the fire at the Maryland Reception Diagnostic and Classification Center in Baltimore on January 2 will continue to happen, said AFSCME Council 3 President Patrick Moran. 

What do Maryland officials have to say? 

Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said that union representatives did not bring up staffing as an issue when they spoke to his department immediately after the fire. 

Additionally, Vernarelli said the Department of Corrections has hired 954 correctional officers since January 2021, they’ve raised salaries by more than 20%, and they cut down the time it takes workers to get hired. He also pointed to stats that show decreased cases of assaults in Maryland prisons. 

In response to the lack of PPE, Vernaarelli said the department has distributed 3.4 million pieces since the pandemic and secretary Robert Green “personally conducts daily COVID-19 PPE supply reviews.” 

Anything else I should know? 

Marci Tarrant Johnson, president of the union that represents public defenders, said she’s still waiting to find out which inmates were given spoiled vaccines that were part of a recent cover-up of mishandled vaccines distributed across the state. 

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