HARRISBURG, Pa. — In an effort to save money, Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel has instituted a department-wide freeze on new hiring, which union representatives are calling a threat to correctional staff safety.
According to PennLive, which reportedly obtained to an internal memo written by Wetzel outlining the hiring freeze, the secretary wrote, “the Department of Corrections is unlikely to finish with a balanced budget this fiscal year.” Wetzel added that the department does not anticipate additional budget assistance since overall Commonwealth revenue receipts have been trailing projected revenues. In the memo, Wetzel also referred to the hiring freeze, which is in effect through at least July 1, as the department’s “first step,” adding that the effort was made solely for the purpose of cost reduction.
The hiring freeze will reportedly also impact those who have received job offers from the Department of Corrections, but have not yet begun employment. According to Wetzel’s memo, job offers extended to applicants who have already completed both a background check and medical screening will still be honored. However, all other offers will be rescinded and those vacant positions will not be filled until the freeze is lifted.
Additionally, June is typically a month during which employees leave their positions at an above normal rate. As a result, the freeze could be felt almost immediately. The Department of Corrections currently employs nearly 9,500 total corrections officers, and has more than 400 vacancies.
In an interview with PennLive, Jason Bloom, western region vice president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, said that prison staffing numbers remain at their 2008 levels, despite the fact that some 5,000 additional inmates have been added to the correctional population. Bloom also said that this imbalance puts Pennsylvania’s correctional workers at increased risk, as inmates know the officers are already outnumbered. “Nothing good can come of this,” Bloom told the site.
In April, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections also made headlines when it requested more than $2 billion in funding for FY 2014-2015, up $77 million from Governor Tom Corbett’s pervious budget. The vast majority of those funds would be dedicated to salaries and benefit increases for the system’s more than 15,000 employees. However, Wetzel also requested $20 million to add roughly 100 positions across seven state prisons.