A recent piece by Shira Schoenberg (“We all do the same job: County correction officers protest lower pay than state prison officers”) in MassLive implies that state and county corrections officers actually do the same work.
This is not the case, and it is unfortunate that the article didn’t shed any light on this fact.
Schoenberg wrote that “the state essentially took over the sheriff’s departments and county jail system years ago, and state money pays the salaries of county jail workers.”
That’s only half of the story.
County sheriffs, in the same legislation that conveyed county jails into state control, were granted continued control over millions of dollars of discretionary accounts and are actually incentivized to go after more money. This has led to, at least in Bristol County, kickbacks from Securus, the phone vendor, and Keefe, the canteen vendor. It has led to substandard food, medical neglect, and the virtual abandonment of rehabilitation programs. Such abuses are nowhere near as acute at the state level.
Forfeiture money is shared with county sheriffs, they receive state, federal and private grants, and they also receive revenues from process serving, participate in criminal investigations, and seem to spend a lot of time training K9s and visiting schools and old-age homes. Look at Tom Hodgson’s Twitter and Facebook pages; his officers sure have a lot of time on their hands. In fact, officers have so much time on their hands that, at a recent 287(g) hearing, Hodgson claimed they could handle the extra duty of impersonating ICE agents.
The realities of county jails are shaped by sheriffs, not by state policy. Tom Hodgson’s 287(g) agreement with ICE creates a completely different environment for corrections officers than at the state level. Both the ICE detainees and the majority of county jail prisoners who are awaiting trial are arguably less violent than their state counterparts, almost all of whom have been convicted of more serious crimes. Former prisoners in Bristol County tell us that they are treated with less professionalism in county lockup than when they have been in state custody.
So, state and county corrections — apples and oranges.
There is tremendous turnover at The Bristol County jail. Every few weeks Hodgson graduates another batch of corrections officers. These mainly high school grads, with little more than a month of training, then go to work at their shiny new $61k jobs. Remember the Ware Report? Corruption at the state level may have declined, but county jails are still, first and foremost, patronage mills.
Meanwhile, “highly qualified” teachers, still overwhelmingly women, proudly bearing master’s degrees but burdened by student debts, earn precisely the same amount each year on average as corrections officers. What do disparities like this tell us about our social priorities? It did not shock me that DINO Bob DeLeo got on board so quickly with a $100 million giveaway to the rightwing MCOFU (corrections officer’s union), but I was surprised and disappointed that an ostensible progressive like Paul Feeney would support “equity” between state and local officer salaries — when in fact no such equity in work performed exists.