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Pennsylvania prisons’ union pushes for increased staffing, as incidents go up

  • Anne Danahy/WPSU
The State Correctional Institution at Rockview.

 Min Xian / WPSU

The State Correctional Institution at Rockview.

As the number of violent incidents in Pennsylvania prisons increased in 2022, compared with the year before, the corrections officers’ union hopes to work with Governor Josh Shapiro’s administration to help make prisons safer.

According to state Department of Corrections data provided by the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, violent incidents in state prisons increased in 2022, although not to levels seen in 2019.

John Eckenrode, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, said he thinks staffing at the state’s prisons needs to increase and some policies, such as how inmate infractions are handled, need to be reviewed.

“Right now, we’ve been in a hiring crisis for two and a half, three years,” Eckenrode said. “Even if we get to the number of where the department feels that we should be, I feel that we need additional staff to work on our housing units.”

Eckenrode said there have been three assaults of employees by inmates at Rockview this year. He said one involved a manager, and another involved an officer, whose nose was broken.

In another Eckenrode called a “brutal assault with extensive injuries,” the corrections officer was attacked by an inmate who had documented behavioral issues.

Eckenrode said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns and other changes led to a decrease in violence. According to state data, there were 2,753 violent incidents in state prisons in 2019. That number dropped to 1,436 in 2021, but increased again in 2022 to 1,753.

“We came out of COVID, and we’re moving inmates around a lot more than what we were before — as far as daily activity, things they get to do inside the institution. And we’re seeing an increase in violence,” Eckenrode said.

He said his union is ready to work with the new acting Secretary of Corrections, Laurel Harry, who was appointed by Governor Josh Shapiro.

“I’m very hopeful that the new secretary and I can work together on some things,” he said. “And, I’m hopeful with the Shapiro administration coming in, that we can at least have a voice and be heard and gain some ground on the staff safety issues.”

According to the Rockview state prison administration, in 2018, there were eight inmate deaths at Rockview. So far this year, Rockview has seen four inmate deaths, including the two from this month that are being investigated. According to the prison, both of those inmates were found unresponsive in their cells and were taken to the hospital for treatment where they died. Investigations are underway.

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