Prison Staff Shortages Hurt Inmate Reform

Prison Staff Shortages Hurt Inmate Reform

Kevin Sherill--February 5, 2024

(Kevin Sherill is incarcerated at Western Correctional Institution in Cumberand, MD. The article was edited for clarity.)

Recently I have learned of many articles being written about the prison staff shortages throughout the United States. I live this fact daily as I am incarcerated in Maryland, USA. Since the beginning of the Covid Crisis most of my days consist of only being out of the cell one hour on average daily per shift. Shifts that allow movement are from 8 am to 4 pm and 4 pm to 12 midnight, although there is rarely any movement out of the building during the second shift. 

During the day shift is when any programming like school, vocational classes, and factory occur. Inmates get to participate in them if they are assigned that particular job assignment. School, vocational classes are job assignments and are sanctioned by the Maryland Department of Education and the Maryland Department of Labor and Resources. 

To the outsiders who look on the website of the Maryland Department of Corrections or of a particular prison, they would think "wow" and would be impressed that such rehabilitative opportunities are afforded the inmates. For example, I am held at WCI in Western Maryland. My assignment is to be a student in vocational shops. These shops include graphic arts, welding, building maintenance, and carpentry. My class hours are two days a week from 8:30 am to 10:30 am and then a short break, followed by a second round of classes from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Fridays are make-up days, a day rarely used.

Since October 2024, I have attended less than 80% of class assigned days due to staff shortages. At least this is the excuse that is told to the participants. Classes for the young men, who are in school anticipating the opportunity to earn their G.E.D, go to school twice a week but their classes are routinely cancelled. However, during these cancellations, the gym is open so inmates can play handball, lift weights, and attend a cardio session. What a shame gym activities are given priority over education! Posting an officer at gym instead of school is ridiculous.

Education in prison is very important to me because the system supposedly looks at "what have you done to better yourself." By the system, I mean the circuit court that sentenced you and has left post-conviction options open so that one can return and say, "Your Honor, this is what I've done." The sentencing Judge does not factor in staff shortages or the fact that some prison officials don't care if you are working on self-improvement. 

I'm trying to get my certificate of completion that may be recognized by the Maryland Department of Labor that should take 600 hours to complete, thereby showing my sentencing court my efforts but more importantly to show myself I can be successful. Achieving goals in prison will give incarcerated people the confidence to make something out of themselves because once released, most will struggle with no job opportunities, no money, and discrimination in housing. 

I'm a senior citizen by the number and I am appalled at how prison officials here lack the empathy to see that inmates are afforded priority to improve themselves. Crime and incarceration go hand in hand but prison does not reform people; it hardens them and discourages them from fighting for improvement. Many give up and say they-"the officials"-don't care, then why should I? I'm experiencing men who need mercy and hope in a place that does not reform, but only hardens souls. Department of Corrections Officials in this state need to walk the walk as taxpayer dollars are wasted on whatever goes toward prison budgets. Taxpayers really need to examine how funds can be appropriately used to help decrease the prison population by giving more time to classes and self-help groups so that men can leave better and not return.