Fired Department of Corrections Officer Plans Appeal

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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 a Personnel Appeals Board hearing last month.


Fired for speaking out about dangerously low staffing at the men’s prison in Concord, former Corrections Officer Claudia Cass Prescott plans to keep fighting after the Personnel Appeals Board upheld her termination.

“I did everything I was supposed to do to protect the inmates and the staff. I didn’t do anything wrong,” Cass Prescott said. “I don’t understand how they could reach those conclusions.

The PAB released a split decision on Wednesday upholding her 2022 termination on the grounds she didn’t follow the chain of command and disobeyed orders she emailed Warden Michelle Edmark and other brass about what she saw as a dangerous situation on her shift.

However, PAB Chair Jason Majors dissented, saying he would have voted to reinstate Cass Prescott since she “never actually refused to follow an order from her superiors while on duty.”

Majors also found Cass Prescott’s firing is possibly a violation of the state’s whistleblower law, according to the ruling. Filing a whistleblower lawsuit is something Cass Prescott had been hoping to avoid, but it looks like she will need to pursue her case in Superior Court now.

“I just want my job back,” she said.

Cass Prescott lost her job of 17 years after she told Edmark in an email she would institute an inmate lockdown during her shift if staffing levels were dangerously low. The December 2022 email was sent in frustration during a shift in which she felt there were again too few officers to keep the inmates safe.

Cass Prescott never actually followed through with a lockdown, and she was never given an order by her superiors to not call a lockdown. 

“All I did was go to the person who could fix this,” Cass Prescott said.

Cass Prescott said her insistence that the staffing situation was and continues to be unsafe, and her speaking out about that is what led to her dismissal. Other officers know the situation inside the prisons is unsafe, but they are scared to speak out because they are afraid they will lose their jobs like Cass Prescott.

“Staff inside are terrified to speak out because this is what [administrators] do,” she said.

Cass Prescott was suspended after she sent the email and ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation by Edmark, a move she claims was part of the retaliation. The PAB decision found the evaluation was ordered out of concern for the many hours Cass Prescott had been working, a finding she disputes.

After she was given a clean bill of mental health by the evaluator in spring of 2023, Cass Prescott was still kept out of work until she was fired that summer. 

Keeping other officers safe, and keeping inmates safe is the priority for corrections officers, she said. The policies they adhere to are clear that they must keep people safe. Cass Prescott said her manner of communicating might be blunt, but she saw herself and hundreds of other people in an unsafe situation because of the staffing shortage.

DOC is in the midst of a staffing crisis it won’t discuss, unless the conversation turns to money. Commissioner Helen Hanks recently asked the House Fiscal Committee this week for more money as the department faces a $3.4 million deficit due to overtime pay. Hanks claims the department has a 46 percent vacancy rate.

The exact ratio of officers to inmates is shrouded in secrecy by the department, but sources have told it is typical for one officer to be responsible for hundreds of inmates per shift.

Cass Prescott said the low staffing levels are no secret to the inmates, and it’s leading to more violence inside the prisons. With fewer officers on duty, the inmates feel they have few options to keep themselves safe.

“If the inmates don’t feel safe, what they do is shank up,” Cass Prescott said.

Shanks are improvised weapons inmates make, usually some type of knife. Because of the current staffing, there are not enough officers available to conduct full searches for contraband like shanks, she said. Assaults among inmates will continue to go up, and there will be even greater violence in the institutions unless the staffing gets fixed, she said.

“We’re going to see more murders,” she said.

Robert Lavoie, 57, is currently facing trial on the first degree murder of fellow inmate James Dale last year inside the medium security Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility in Berlin. Lavoie allegedly killed Dale with a metal pipe. Lavoie has since been transferred to Concord. Cass Prescott said Dale’s murder is a direct result of too few officers on hand to keep inmates safe. 

Cass Prescott wants to avoid a lawsuit still and plans to appeal the PAB order first. Failing that, she will take the DOC to court.

“I did what I was supposed to do. I think [the PAB] made the wrong decision,” Cass Prescott said. 

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