The state of Maryland is facing a severe shortage in government employees. According to legislative analysts, the executive branch must fill 1,200 vacancies and create an additional 1,200 new positions in order to perform essential functions. The Department of Legislative Services, a nonpartisan department that advises lawmakers of both parties, has informed the General Assembly’s Spending Affordability Committee that the elimination of over 7,700 positions by both Democratic and Republican gubernatorial administrations since 2002 has left the state seriously understaffed.
Amongst the state’s most understaffed entities is the Maryland Department of Corrections. This year, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has 981 vacancies, which equates to approximately 14% of the front-line staff. The department has the highest turnover rate at 9.1%. In order to counteract this rapid decline in manpower, the Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Stephen T. Moyer announced the implementation of a new recruitment incentive. The department will now offer any recruit who graduates its academy a $2,000 bonus and upon completion of their one-year probationary period, officers will earn an additional $3,000. Having adequate staff in the state’s correctional facilities could be the difference between life and death.
Leaders of AFSCME Maryland Council 3 have also called on the Department of Juvenile Services to fill vacancies at the state’s detention center for violent youth. In August, they held a press conference at Victor Cullen Center located in Frederick County. Several staffers at the detention center were harmed during a violent altercation amongst some of the youth in detention. The union argued that the department’s vacancy rate of 11%, in conjunction with the latest budget cuts which included the elimination of 40 permanent positions would enhance the dangerous conditions. In September, a Baltimore Sun article highlighted the shortage of beds in Maryland’s mental health facilities, which is responsible for a number of inmates remaining incarcerated long after the courts ruled in favor of getting them treated. Members of AFSCME and several elected officials attributed this issue to the staff shortages which they believe is preventing the Maryland Department of Health from increasing the capacity of its mental health treatment program. Furthermore, the union says that the lack of adequate staff at the state’s mental health hospitals are resulting in forced overtime for the remaining workers in addition to unsafe working conditions. Prolonged incarceration of mentally ill offenders in jail with the general population makes an already demanding profession even more stressful and high risk.
With the 2018 elections less than a year away, it will be interesting to see how the Hogan administration addresses these critical staffing shortages, despite their preference for small government. Maryland can’t afford to continue operating in such a manner and it is time that the Hogan administration took a serious approach to ensuring that our state agencies are adequately staffed and prepared to execute their respective duties.