Guard Says State Prison Fired Her For Telling Leadership About ‘Staffing Crisis’

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Damien Fisher photos

From left to right are Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks, fired corrections officer Claudia Cass Prescott and Warden Michelle Edmark are pictured at Wednesday's Personnel Appeals Board hearing.


CONCORD — New Hampshire State Prison Warden Michelle Edmark claims she had to fire long-time Corrections Officer Claudia Cass Prescott for refusing to follow direct orders, and not because Cass Prescott was telling Department of Corrections leadership about the staffing crisis inside the state prison for men in Concord.

“There was no correction action path forward because she was unwilling to change her position,” Edmark testified Wednesday in front of the state Personnel Appeals Board.

Cass Prescott’s position was and always has been that she follows the law and keeps inmates and fellow corrections officers safe. Cass Prescott never refused to follow any actual order given to her.

Instead, when asked, she insisted she would never follow any hypothetical order that broke the law, was unethical, or violated Department of Corrections policy.

Cass Prescott is appealing her termination in front of the state Personnel Appeals Board, which began hearing the case Wednesday. Cass Prescott told that as the staffing crisis inside the Concord prison worsened, she saw the number of corrections officers on duty drop to dangerous levels. During an overnight shift in December of 2022, the staffing situation was dire and Cass Prescott was fed up. She sent an email explaining she would keep inmates locked in their cells if she saw staff levels that low on her next overnight shift.

That email did prompt action from her bosses. They quickly suspended her and initiated an internal investigation. Over the coming months, Edmark would also force Cass Prescott to undergo a psychological exam before firing her.

Edmark, who makes a point to inform employees of her open door policy, testified she gave Cass Prescott a chance to keep her job during a meeting in July of 2023. It was the only time Edmark met in person with Cass Prescott about the 2022 email incident, and Cass Prescott was informed ahead of time the face-to-face with Edmark was administratively known as a pre-termination meeting.

In her testimony, Edmark was unable to recall exactly what was said during the meeting when asked a number of times by Cass Prescott’s lawyer John Krupski, and there is no recording of the meeting, but Edmark is sure Cass Prescott refused to budge.

“I don’t remember her exact choice of words,” Edmark said. “She made it clear to me in the meeting that she stood by her actions.”

Speaking to, Cass Prescott also would not budge from her position that she will never follow a direct order that is illegal, unethical, or violated policy. The fact remains, both Edmark and DOC Commissioner Helen Hanks testified Cass Prescott never refused any direct order that was actually given to her. Her offense is that she let her superiors know she would take appropriate measures when the staffing levels are that dangerous.

Captain John Morin testified for DOC claiming Cass Prescott broke the rules by sending that email outside the chain of command and not first going to her direct supervisors. But Krupski played an audio of Morin’s interview with a DOC Internal Affairs investigator in which he acknowledged Cass Prescott had raised her concerns with her supervisor.

“I don’t recall that,” Morin said.

Morin was assigned to talk to Cass Prescott on Dec. 22, 2022, days after she sent her email. Morin would report her hypothetical refusal to follow his hypothetical orders to Edmark. Krupski also played a section of the Internal Affairs interview in which Morin said Cass Prescott was not being insubordinate when she told him she would refuse a hypothetical order if she deemed it put staff and inmates in danger.

“I didn’t see it as insubordinate. I just saw it as a very serious issue,” Morin said in the recording.

Under questioning, Morin said if he was working a shift and faced similar staffing levels as Cass Prescott, he would not release all the inmates at once without additional help.

“But I never answer a hypothetical,” Morin said.

Hanks testified Cass Prescott telling Morin and Edmark she would refuse to follow an unsafe, illegal, or unethical order is grounds for termination, even though Cass Prescott never refused to follow any order given. The Department of Corrections has no policy on what correction officers are supposed to do when faced with dangerously low staffing situations. Hanks was dismissive when asked by Krupski why she did not write such a policy for her staff.

“I could write a policy about dogs, I could write a policy about all sorts of things,” Hanks said.

The Department of Corrections refuses to make public the staffing numbers inside its facilities, citing operation security needs. During Wednesday’s hearing, the Personnel Appeals Board agreed to DOC demands and cleared the room anytime a witness was asked about the numbers. Sources have told everyone inside the men’s prison in Concord, staff and inmates, know how many corrections officers are on duty during shifts. Only the general public does not know what goes on inside the prison.

Last year, the New Hampshire National Guard was deployed to work shifts at the prison when even Edmark and Hanks admitted there was a staffing problem.

Cass Prescott’s hearing is anticipated to continue Thursday.

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