CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) – Staffing at the Wyatt Detention Facility, where a prisoner escaped on New Year’s Eve, is so low that correctional officers are routinely being ordered to work mandatory overtime, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.
According to board meeting minutes from October, Wyatt should have 140 correctional officers on staff, but only had 98 positions filled, leaving a vacancy of 42 officers. The prison is a privately run facility but is overseen by a board of directors appointed by Central Falls Mayor James Diossa.
In a September meeting, Warden Daniel Martin told board members forced overtime was part of the reason they were having trouble recruiting and retaining officers.
“The main issue remained staff retention,” Martin said, according to the minutes. “Two issues were identified that made officers leave which included both the pay scale and excessive overtime due to the inability to retain staff.”
Jack Parlon – a union official with the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents Wyatt officers – said the prison is running at a “bare minimum” for shifts and uses excessive overtime to operate on a day-to-day basis.
“You can’t work a guy in that environment 80 hours a week and expect them to perform the way we need them to perform,” Parlon told Target 12 in a phone interview. “It results in bad things happening.”
On Saturday evening, inmate James Morales escaped Wyatt by scaling a basketball hoop in the recreational yard and using a tool to cut his way through a fence covering the area. Prison officials say he then climbed onto the facility’s roof and then shimmied down the building, making his way over razor-sharp barbed wire.
On Monday, Martin told Eyewitness News that Morales “should’ve been detected missing before he was.”
Two correctional officers have been placed on paid administrative leave in the wake of the incident.
Martin has not returned calls or emails requesting information about the staffing levels on New Year’s Eve.
Parlon declined to comment on specifics of the case, citing potential disciplinary actions the union may have to handle, but said officers who are on forced overtime will have a decline in attention span.
The low staffing comes from a high turnover rate of officers, according to Parlon.
“It comes down to a simple issue and that’s pay,” he said.
Parlon said Martin deserves credit for recognizing the problem and helping to successfully push for a pay increase in a contract that was approved by the union in September. But even then, the prison faces stiff competition from the Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston and other government-run prisons.
“The competition out there is the state corrections and it’s hard for that facility to keep up with that,” Parlon said. “When we take people on and they realize they can get some experience here, that’s what they use it for.”
The October meeting minutes show three correctional officers announced they were leaving for Fort Devens federal medical center and prison in Ayer, Massachusetts, which is run by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The minutes also revealed that of the 16 people recruited for a new class of cadets, six dropped out before the end of training.
Parlon said the prison has violated the collective bargaining agreement by forcing so much overtime.
“This administration – this warden – has recognized what the problem is, where others didn’t,” Parlon said. “The challenge is to be able to fix that.”
The number of inmates fluctuates daily, but as of the October meeting Wyatt housed 525 prisoners.
The facility lost millions in government contracts when a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainee died of cancer in 2008 after allegedly being neglected by staff.
Since then the prison has struggled to reach its capacity of 770 inmates. Martin’s employment contract calls for financial bonuses if he can increase the population.
Tim White ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on FacebookThis story was modified from its original: the two correctional officers suspended at the time were not in the recreational yard at the time of the escape.