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Still Plagued by Problems Corrections Officers Review Options

Oct. 20, 2005—Poor ventilation, a leaky roof, exposed electrical wires, money missing from pay checks—after several months of fighting for better working conditions, nothing much has improved for officers at the Bureau of Corrections on St. Thomas.
"These are the things that we come in everyday and face," Allen Nibbs, the bureau's shop steward said. "Mold is growing on the walls of the jail in St. Thomas. The chairs officers have to sit on are broken and need to be replaced. Our air conditioning unit is not working. We're unhappy with this, and it's time something be done."
At an emergency meeting held Thursday to discuss the matter, Nibbs and other officers decided their course of action will be to bring their complaints before Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. If that doesn't help, Nibbs said officers will be taking a job action, possibly in the form of a walkout.
"It's the only way," Nibbs said. "If we take job action, then people will finally be able to understand how bad things are for us, how much stress we're under. Maybe then we'll see things get better for us."
Officers will also lobby the governor to fire Agnes George, the Bureau's acting assistant director, in addition to other lower management staff, Nibbs said.
George, as well as the bureau's acting territorial warden, Dale Donovan, is the root of all problems at the bureau, officers said. In addition to hiring employees based on favoritism, officers claimed George is deliberately keeping money from being included in paychecks.
Money owed to officers by the government for overtime hours worked in the past nine months was supposed to be included in the checks issued for the Oct. 1 pay period, for example. Nibbs said officers never received the money, but instead heard George blamed the error on the Finance Department.
Nibbs said George told officers problems with Finance's system has caused the delays, even though the department's commissioner, Bernice Turnbull, has already refuted such statements (See "Finance Says It's Not At Fault for BOC Pay Problem").
Pay problems have been made worse recently by other practices going on within the bureau. Officers said the payroll clock, which is supposed to record how many hours officers work, is set incorrectly. "This means the officers are not receiving money for all the hours they've worked," Gwen Lettsome, corrections officer, said.
Furthermore, Lettsome said a time book, in which supervisors at the Bureau are supposed to record how many overtime hours officers work, has been discontinued by the bureau. Instead, supervisors now have to record the overtime hours on loose slips of paper—which officers say can be easily lost, or forgotten.
"In addition, the bureau's management didn't tell anyone that this slip was being implemented," Ralph Francis, corrections officer, said. "So for the past few weeks, the supervisors haven't been recording any overtime hours. That's a lot of money officers are going to be missing."
Officers brought up other issues during the meeting on Thursday, such as the lack of training officers are receiving. "Homeland security training is especially important," Nibbs said. "I know the police officers, firefighters, are receiving that, and memos are sent to the bureau so our officers can attend, too. But Agnes George doesn't distribute them, so we can't receive that training."
Nibbs said this lack of training also extends to prospective corrections officers. Not only have these individuals not received the proper training necessary to do the job, Nibbs said, but they have also been waiting a year to graduate from the officer training program.
Lettsome said these officers were supposed to graduate last Thursday, but the bureau told them they had to buy their graduation uniform. "That's not right," Lettsome said. "How are you going to make these kids buy something which the bureau is supposed to pay for?"
Problems faced with the officers' promotional exam were also an important topic at the meeting. Lettsome said officers had tried to take the test a few weeks ago, but it contained so many spelling and grammatical errors that those taking the test could not understand the questions. In addition, Lettsome said corrections officers are not given a study guide to prepare for the exam, which is something also given to police officers and firefighters.
A lack of proper equipment was also discussed. Nibbs said officers transporting prisoners do not have a radio on them to contact other officers if there is trouble, nor do they have a bullet proof vest or weapon. "That puts my safety as an officer at risk," Nibbs said. "And if my safety is at risk, then the prisoners' safety is at risk, as well as the community's."
Nibbs, Lettsome, and Francis said a meeting with the governor will help bring these issues to light, and ease the pressure for officers having to work under these conditions.
Nibbs said meetings with Attorney General Kerry Drue, while productive, have not yielded many results. Nibbs said this is because Drue is being lied to by George, keeping any progress from being made within the organization.
"Lies are being told now," Nibbs said. "But when we go to Turnbull, the truth will come out, and I hope George's head is the first on the chopping block."
George has never returned several calls placed on this issue, including a call made early Friday morning.

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