According to a recent AP article, Connecticut will close the Bergin and Enfield Correctional Institutions this fall. The closures are a response to the failure of state employees to ratify a labor savings deal proposed by Governor Dan Malloy. The proposal would have cut the Department of Correction budget by $140.9 million over the next two years. Because the state employees refused to accept these cuts, they will have to accept the prison closures – which will result in about 400 immediate layoffs.
Upon hearing the news, several local chapters of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the prison workers’ union, aired their displeasure. The local chapters claim the closures will eliminate officer vacation time and increase worker’s compensation claims because increased workloads will follow the budget reductions. The union further claims that corrections officers are being targeted because of their rejection of the proposal by Gov. Malloy.
Above all, the unions emphasize what they perceive to be an imminent threat to public safety. Now, the unions claim, there is no extra space to divert persons in the event of a fire or riot. Luke Leone, the president of one of the local unions, claims that parole officers have been told not to report all problems that would send paroled offenders back to prison as a result of the cuts.
AFSCME chapters have also cited the 2007 slaying of a mother and two daughters by two paroled men in Cheshire as a situation they fear will happen again due to the cuts. Leone said, “It’s not now if another Cheshire happens but when a Cheshire happens.” Department of Correction spokesman Brian Garnett dismissed these claims as “irresponsible and unprofessional speculation” and emphasizes to the union leadership that the Department of Correction is acting “with public safety as our foremost concern.”
As Garnett mentioned, AFSCME chapters have presented no evidence or previous patterns to support their predictions. Leone’s forecast that parole officers are not reporting violations would of course be problematic, but the claim is unsubstantiated. The Cheshire incident was tragic, but it should not condemn the entire probation system. Meanwhile, Garnett emphasizes that the changes in policy can be reversed if the unions can come to a different concession agreement with the governor.