Wicomico Corrections Seeking 5th Transport Officer

SALISBURY – A recent audit of the county’s department of corrections revealed a shortage of transport staff.

On Tuesday, Levin Hitchens, assistant internal auditor, presented the Wicomico County Council with a recent audit of staffing levels at the department of corrections.

“Management believes a shortage of transporters may exist and asked us to quantify the shortage if there is one,” he said.

According to the audit report, in the third quarter of 2018 the primary transport team – comprised of four dedicated officers – completed 1,290 hours of work. Staff vacancies and overtime, however, covered the remaining 667 hours of work in the same 90-day period.

“Transporting inmates outside the facility is an interesting process, which typically requires two officers, one of which is armed,” Hitchens said. “Many of the transports are scheduled in advance. However, there are circumstances where management has to draft other officers for coverage, such as in a medical emergency.”

Hitchens said his department did not offer a recommendation or projection for future demand.

“Management should use our report in conjunction with their expertise in the industry to determine their transportation needs,” he said.

Council President John Cannon questioned how the department of corrections would address the shortage of transport staff.

“I thought it was a rather informative report and I thought it came to some very interesting conclusions,” he said. “I wonder in this process if it was suggested at the department of corrections whether or not they plan to address this in the upcoming budget cycle.”

Warden Ruth Colbourne told the council the department’s budget request includes a fifth full-time transport officer, but she noted she wanted an audit to determine if there was an actual need.

“The only way to do that is to break the hours down, break the mileage down, the dedicated officers, and look at what is covered and what isn’t …,” she said. “I had an opinion, but I had no influence one way or another.”

Colbourne said the officers transport inmates to court dates, bond hearings, medical appointments and the hospital.

“Someone has to ride in the back of the ambulance and a chase vehicle has to go because we need someone who’s armed,” she said.

Councilman Joe Holloway questioned if the audit revealed areas of needed improvement.

“As a result of the audit, did you find anything in there that you could do to improve the functions any?” he said.

Colbourne said she was working with the circuit court to send documents electronically, instead of transporting inmates to and from court. Yet, she maintained a fifth officer was needed.

The council voted unanimously to accept the report.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.