Director Heyns: PSV and RUO Actions Are Necessary
Over the past several weeks, I have received a great deal of emails critical of cost containment measures being implemented. In particular, they argue the abolition of the RUO position and perimeter vehicles is unwise and dangerous. It would have been impossible for me to respond to all of these messages, so allow me to respond here.
When I accepted this appointment, the most pronounced criticism of the Department was the size of the budget. The Legislature and the public that elected them were unhappy with the two billion dollar price tag. This unhappiness was reflected in a 2012 budget that I inherited which included negative appropriations. These negative appropriations amounted to tens of millions of dollars and required me to find cost savings at targeted amounts.
Since June 1, 2011, we have made huge strides to cover these negative appropriations. Some of the measures include savings in facility closure, transportation, pharmaceuticals, unfilled vacancies, inmate clothing, store consolidation, workers compensation, and staffing efficiencies, to name a few. But these measures alone were not enough to meet our budget targets. In addition, although contract negotiations were productive, the concessions did not match the rises in post-employment pensions and benefits.
Faced with these budget pressures, I was forced to look at other options. The elimination of the RUO designation and random patrols by perimeter vehicles were proposed by the workgroups tasked with offering solutions. These work groups were composed of mid- to upper-level managers with intimate knowledge of the security functions of our institutions. They proposed and I agreed these functions can be realigned and performed in more cost effective ways. I do not have the luxury of maintaining the status quo.
First, let's discuss the Resident Unit Officer position. After studying the history of its creation and witnessing firsthand the duties, I value their contribution to the stability of the institutions. But the legislative and public criticism which persists is, MCO bargaining unit members are paid more than other corrections officers in adjoining states. As we work together to preserve pay and positions, the role of Michigan corrections officers must evolve. It can no longer be solely about custody and security; it must include a role in programming and rehabilitation. We can no longer afford the dual roles of custody and housing staff. The two roles must be melded together. Given our continued successes in recidivism, the defense of pay and benefits is compelling. But to convince people outside the Department of the value we bring to the State, we must take a new tack.
Perimeter vehicles are extremely labor intensive and fail to offer numbers to support their continuation. Institutional security rises and falls at the front gate. More contraband comes in the front door than comes in over the fence. We need to rededicate ourselves to scrutinizing procedures as they apply to visitors, inmates and staff. The cost of perimeter vehicles does not generate sufficient interdiction numbers to justify the expense. We can work together to accomplish safer perimeters via technology, arming the front desk and reconfiguring our surveillance strategy. The current model is obsolete. Please work with me to develop our new and better model.
As we work together to reinvent MDOC along with Michigan, we can either do this as adversaries or as partners. We can resist change or embrace it. I think my record is clear; safety for the public, staff and prisoners is top priority. The introduction of Tasers and chemical agents into our force continuum is evidence of my commitment to safety. With your help, we can use logic and prudent changes to defend our budget. The Governor's Executive recommendation for the FY2013 budget (as drafted) is a better budget than FY 2012. My hope is that trend will continue and end the instability this organization has struggled with for several years. Let's work together to restore fiscal responsibility and stability to the MDOC.