CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The union that represents correctional officers in Rhode Island has filed a grievance over a new security detail for the director of the Department of Corrections.
Patricia Coyne-Fague, who took over as DOC director from A.T. Wall last year, has had a protective detail since October, spokesperson J.R. Ventura confirmed. The detail is only used “as-needed,” not all the time, and utilizes existing correctional officers to protect the director.
In the grievance dated Dec. 16, the R.I. Brotherhood of Correctional Officers wrote: “The team has been hand-selected, not affording all members the opportunity to be considered for the team.”
“She has said that there could be threats on her life,” the grievance continued. “There are numerous DOC employees who have had their lives and/or their family’s lives threatened and the DOC is not offering the same protection for these employees.”
Richard Ferruccio, the president of the union, said the director picked the officers from the existing tactical team, and did not give others the opportunity to to apply for the job. It’s caused a “major division among the staff,” Ferruccio said, in part because officers are not also being offered protection.
“We get threats all the time,” Ferruccio said. “Almost on a daily basis.” He said the threats happen both inside the prison and from friends and family members on the outside.
“As we continue to evolve and modernize corrections as a country, it is considered best practice for corrections directors to engage in protective security measures due to the sensitive nature of the work,” Ventura said in a statement. “Unfortunately, in this line of work, it is not unusual to receive threats.”
Ventura did not provide an estimated cost for the detail, which he said involves existing corrections officers who are paid their regular salaries.
“What they’re not doing is their normal duties as a correctional officer,” Ferruccio said. “He’s not there, so he’s going to get replaced on overtime. and we’re already short correctional officers.” He said officers are continually getting “frozen in,” which is when they are required to work overtime because there are not enough officers on the next shift.
“If the officer that’s on the team goes to protect her, then that causes another officer to get frozen in,” Ferruccio said. “We have a major shortage of correctional officers.”
The Raimondo administration has been trying to crack down on what they call “sick leave abuse” at the DOC, which can lead to increased overtime costs.
Ferruccio also lamented the fact that the hand-picked officers are receiving special training to participate in the detail. He said the administration should have sat down with the union to negotiate the new security detail and offer the positions for all officers to apply.
The grievance asks for all union members to be considered for the protective detail, and for protection to be offered to officers “who have had their or their families’ lives threatened.”
Ventura did not comment on the grievance itself, nor did he give specifics on any threats made to Coyne-Fague.
“If this started in October, then it’s definitely one of the best kept secrets,” Ferruccio said.