(Olympia, Wash.) – More than two hundred Teamsters working for the Department of Corrections, along with their families and supporters, converged on the state capitol in Olympia today with a simple message for lawmakers: It’s time to invest in the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe.
“We’re here to educate legislators about what we do to keep the public safe,” said Sergeant Thomas Orth, who traveled with his wife, Kim, from Spokane to speak with legislators. “They need to be in our boots and see what we do every day because we’re not only protecting ourselves, but we’re protecting them and their families.”
Corrections employees talked with legislators about the dangers of prison work while focusing on a few key policy issues.
“Our top priority is to ensure that the state legislature invests in corrections employees by funding their contract,” said John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. “Corrections employees put their lives on the line to protect the public, yet they are significantly underpaid for the important public safety work they perform.”
Experienced officers, who represent the largest job classification at the state’s Department of Corrections, earn 37 percent less than their peers who work in county corrections. Other DOC job classifications are similarly underpaid.
In their visits with lawmakers, DOC staff also emphasized the need for the legislature to fund an external audit of staffing levels in all Washington state prisons. The Department of Corrections operates under a staffing model established in 1988. An external audit, they said, would identify parts of the system that are understaffed and make recommendations for improvements.
“Officers are working at a 1-135 ratio to the inmates in the living units. We don’t have extra officers helping with the tier checks. We’re not able to get done what we need to get done security wise. That puts us at risk and makes our prisons more dangerous,” said Ronny Matsen, a correctional sergeant at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen.
Finally, corrections staff advocated for a change to the Public Records Act to protect their personal information. Many reported being harassed by felons who obtain their information through public disclosure.
“I get notified all of the time about being subject to public disclosure. Management tells us that we don’t need to worry about it, but it’s a big concern to me because I don’t know who is getting my information. If they get your personal information, they can come out to where you live, and they can take it out on your family,” said Robert Gran, a transport officer at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
A bill (SB 5326) before the state senate would allow prison staff to seek legal damages if their information is used for to harass or intimidate any person.