front page - search - community 

Tension, turnover threaten D.C. prison

Staff morale reported low, union alleges working condition violations

(Published September 20, 1999)

By REBECCA CHARRY

Staff Writer

Employees at D.C.ís Correctional Treatment Facility say hostility between management and workers is threatening the safe operation of the 800-bed prison.

Union president Roosevelt Littlejohn said a recent wave of firings and resignations has left the facility seriously understaffed and has distracted corrections officers from their duties. More than a dozen alleged violations of the unionís contract are pending arbitration and a group of about 15 former guards plans to sue Corrections Corp. of America, the prison operator, for wrongful termination, he said. The D.C. facility is the only one of Tennessee-based CCAís 80 prisons nationwide that is unionized.

In a series of letters to CCA executives over the past year, Littlejohn outlined numerous complaints, alleged contract violations and warned of the rapidly deteriorating atmosphere inside the prison.

Littlejohn and other employees charge that guards are forced to work overtime, routinely work double shifts without the 15-minute breaks required by the union contract, have been denied warm clothing for outdoor work in winter, and were denied access to essential personal food and medicine while on duty.

CTF Warden Mary Buell and CCA board member Joseph Johnson did not return calls for comment.

CCA, the nationís largest private prison company, garnered national attention last year following two murders and the escape of six prisoners from its northeastern Ohio prison, which houses D.C. inmates. The CTF, which earned accreditation last year from the American Correctional Association, has seen less public scrutiny.

But according to CTF guard Rochelle Vaughn, staff morale is at an all-time low since the prison opened more than two years ago. "As soon as the recruits get out of the training class, they are looking for another job," she said.

"The place is about to blow," said Joyce Scott, a social service provider who recruits potential corrections officers for the facility.

High turnover at all levels has left 15 percent of staff positions at the prison vacant, said Shantell Lewis, who served as personnel director until she was abruptly fired Sept. 7. She said this year she processed about a dozen terminations or resignations each month.

Lewis said she was fired after she did not report to work when a supervisor demanded she work on a scheduled day off. CCA documents provided by Lewis show she received a positive performance evaluation in March in which her superiors credited her with "single-handedly turn(ing) the Personnel Department around, making it efficient, organized and professional."

The contract between CCA and the National Professional Corrections Employees Union prohibits a strike. But Littlejohn said he and other employees plan to meet soon with Warden Buell and City Councilman Harold Brazil, D-At large, chairman of the councilís judiciary committee, to discuss recent conflicts.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator