State probation and parole agents held a press conference Thursday expressing concerns that a shortage in staff leaves them under-equipped and ill-prepared to implement impending justice reform.
The Washington Post reports:
Union members expressed their concern at a news conference in Baltimore. They argued that many agents carry more than 100 cases and that the numbers are likely to climb when the new sentencing law goes fully into effect in October 2017.
Union officials say the agency is supposed to keep the caseload at about 82 cases per officer, but the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said there is no such standard, and union officials acknowledged that it is not a hard-and-fast rule.
State officials estimate that about 1,600 prisoners serving long sentences will become eligible for early release starting in October 2017 as a result of the new law. Known as the Justice Reinvestment Act, the law was designed to reduce the prison population and costs and to help offenders reenter society.
According to The Carroll County Times:
“Right now, the state does not have enough probation agents and support staff to get the job done,” Helen Humphries, a senior parole agent in Baltimore, said during a news conference. “We cannot do the jobs that we are called to do because we are inundated with work already.”
Probation agents said that in addition to managing caseloads that exceed 100 offenders — well above the recommended 82 per agent — many are spending a day or two a week answering the phone or staffing the front desk in probation offices across the state where vacant secretarial jobs have not been filled.
State officials acknowledged Thursday that about 10 percent of the state’s 695 probation agent jobs are vacant, resulting in the lowest level of staffing in the past four years.
But those officials say they plan to have an additional 60 workers start at the state’s probation agent academy on Aug. 10, and then add as many more agents as needed in October.
Gary McLhinney, director of professional standards with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said he alerted union leadership to this plan two weeks ago. He said that once implemented, the probation agent staffing levels will be “at the highest they’ve ever been.”