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Report shows nearly half of correctional officer jobs in Philly vacant as new prisons commissioner announced

Nearly half of correctional officer jobs vacant as Philly announces new prisons commissioner
Nearly half of correctional officer jobs vacant as Philly announces new prisons commissioner 02:08

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- There is new leadership at the Philadelphia Department of Prisons. Michael Resnick was formally introduced as the new commissioner by Mayor Cherelle Parker on Wednesday afternoon.

The former city public safety director and acting prisons commissioner in 2016 walks into a department besieged by challenges from a federal lawsuit, serious understaffing issues, complaints about conditions behind prison walls and more.

"I am cognizant of the issues facing the department and the challenges that lie ahead," Resnick said at City Hall Wednesday.

For nearly the last two years, Philadelphia prisons have been under the watchful eye of a court-appointed monitor stemming from a federal class-action lawsuit. In her latest report, Monitor Cathleen Beltz noted that 46% of budgeted correctional officer jobs remain vacant.

"Frequent staff assaults, fights, stabbings, rampant contraband and extortion, and security breaches have been made possible or exacerbated by the staffing shortage," Beltz wrote in the March 29 report.

David Robinson, a longtime correctional officer and current Chief of Staff for District Council 33, said officers face plenty of challenges daily.

"Dangerously understaffed, overcrowded with inmates, as well as you're dealing with the elements, K2 smoke," said Robinson.

Beltz's latest report also notes the prison population in the city rose to 4,666 as of Jan. 1, a rise of 323 from the year prior. Beltz noted the department achieved only partial compliance in 19 sub-provisions and non-compliance in seven sub-provisions out of a total of 37.

In light of the report, on Monday, the Abolitionist Law Center, Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and law firm Kairys Rudovsky Messing Feinberg & Lin filed a contempt motion for "failure to comply with the settlement agreement."

Contempt Motion by CBS Philadelphia on Scribd

Nia Holston with the Abolitionist Law Center said the city isn't doing enough to fix the problems at its prisons. The motion calls for sanctions of $5 per inmate per day until the prisons make headway on their staffing shortage.

"That would be a little over $23,000 per day," said Holston.

Parker said she consulted with union leaders in deciding her next prisons commissioner, following the retirement of Blanche Carney. Robinson said they support the pick of Resnick because of the experience he brings.

"He's bringing a lot of knowledge to this department and it's something that's, lack of better words, something that's been needed for a long time," Robinson said.

Along with serving in public safety and prison roles in Philly, Resnick said he headed up prisons in Baltimore. He said they were facing a similar monitoring situation when he was installed, and that they worked to take care of some of those issues quickly.

"Within two years of being there we were able to satisfy the monitor, we were in substantial compliance with the conditions of confinement," said Resnick.

Resnick said he has two priorities entering his new role: increasing staff and reducing the prison population. On staffing, Resnick said that will start with taking care of the officers they already have in-house.

"When our current employees feel like they are appreciated, they have good morale, they're happy in their jobs, the conditions of their workplace are good, they will refer their friends, their family and their neighbors," said Resnick.

While the monitoring of Philadelphia prions was originally slated to end in March this year, the latest court-appointed monitor report shows that has now been extended to at least March 2026.

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