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Union: PREA rules mean female COs favored

Federal standards established by PREA in 2003 now being implemented could create complications

By David Taube
Beaver County Times

BEAVER, Pa. — Correction officer and assistant union steward David Pyle wants the workplace to be fair, but new federal legislation could mean jails favor female staffers, he said.

“That’s reverse discrimination,” Pyle said, adding there’s nothing he thinks can be done to address that concern federally.

Federal standards established by the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003 now being implemented could create complications for the Beaver County Jail, and administrators will have to discuss with its union about hiring and staffing for shifts, the jail’s warden, William Schouppe, said Wednesday.

The legislation means male correction officers can no longer conduct cross-gender pat-down searches, but female correction officers can continue to do so for female and male inmates, Schouppe said. The jail implemented that change in January, he said, adding other changes should be incorporated by the end of this year.

To help address concerns, Pyle told the county prison board during a monthly meeting Wednesday that the union wants to be a part of the employment discussion as it unfolds.

No female guards were present at the meeting.

The union’s contract expires at the end of this year, and jail administrators will discuss with union representatives what the legislation will mean for hiring and shift assignments so there are enough men and women on at a time, Schouppe said.

The union’s contract currently sets overtime opportunities based on seniority, but if a sick call was made by a female staffer, then callouts might only occur to female officers, Schouppe said.

Another complication: If senior female staffers all want a daylight shift, the jail might not have enough coverage for a night shift.

Of the jail’s 80 employees, 23 are women, which seems to provide the necessary staffing for now, Schouppe said. Those figures include part-time and full-time staff.

Commissioner Joe Spanik said gender ratios of the inmate population will fluctuate, further complicating the issue.

“We don’t get a lot of female applicants at the jail,” Schouppe said. “Every time we do a hiring class, we try to hire females.”

A recent hiring had roughly 30 applicants, where about a third was female, Schouppe said. Three hires were women, he said.

“We’re just going to have to make sure we talk to maybe (CareerLink) and some other places,” Schouppe said, “to make sure we’re reaching out to as many prospective female employees as we can.”