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ACI Hiring Practices Under Scrutiny by DOJ

The U.S. Department of Justice has raised concerns about possible discrimination in the hiring practices at the state Department of Corrections, prompting the halt of an ongoing recruitment drive.

More than 2,500 people have applied for about 60 jobs as corrections officers at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston and the corrections department was in the midst of reviewing tests taken by applicants in October when the justice department intervened.

A RIDOC spokeswoman told WPRI that a "small group" from the corrections department, including Director A. T. Wall, will be heading to Washington, D.C., to meet with federal officials to talk about the examination process.

Applicants waiting for their test results to see if they made it to the next round of the hiring process got an email on Dec. 4 stating "The Department of Justice has informed us that there are some concerns about our selection process for entry level correctional officers."

The email continued: "Under the circumstances we are putting the selection process on hold, for the time being. Once the issues are resolved we will contact you, via U.S. Mail, to notify you of your application status. Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding."

The RIDOC spokeswoman, Susan Lamkins, told WPRI that the Department of Justice has taken issue with those written and video exams that the agency used as part of the hiring process and plans on filing suit.

Applicants took two exams, both administered at the Community College of Rhode Island's Knight Campus in Warwick. In them, applicants watched two long videos that pose questions one after another with a pause of about 10- to 15-seconds between each question. Answers are filled out on scannable test sheets, similar to the "fill in the circle" tests used to administer standardized tests to school children.

The first test is based on general knowledge and tests applicants' language, writing, grammar and math skills. Applicants are asked to spot grammatical errors in sentences, identify the one correct sentence in a series of sentences and perform basic math by referring to printouts that contain prison-related data, such as prisoner lists and inventory lists with questions such as "how many prisoners are in cell block B," or "how many prisoners remain in cell block B if half of them are in the yard and half are remaining in their cells."

The second exam relies on a more than 20-year-old video depicting scenarios that might occur during day-to-day operations at a prison and asks applicants to pick the "best" from several possible actions. For example, an applicant will see a visitor to the prison get into an argument with a fellow CO and the options might be to ignore the argument, intervene and threaten to remove the visitor from the room, intervene and kindly ask the visitor to calm down, wait for the situation to resolve itself or intervene and reprimand the fellow CO for engaging in unruly behavior in the visitor's area.

It is unclear what specific element of the exams the DOJ has taken issue with. But Wall, in testimony before the House Finance Committee, said "There is a belief on the part of the Justice Department that the outcome of those exams, not the intent but the outcome, has disproportionately and adversely affected African American and Hispanic candidates," Wall said. "Frankly we were surprised and dismayed; our own findings have not yielded those outcomes."

The ACI employs 911 correctional officers. Just 175 are minorities.

With the hiring process on hold, Wall told committee members that the RIDOC will be spending more money on overtime to fill vacant shifts.

Mike December 11, 2013 at 09:06 AM
This is absolutely ridiculous... I personally took the exam this past time and it in no way discriminates! If you have no common sense and can't count or identify grammatical errors than you won't pass. Why should less qualified people be given jobs if they score lower than another? I was hopeful of possibly at least hearing back about my status but looks like that is not going to happen now! I've been unemployed for over a year now and I have never had a problem getting a job previous. Yet now I have not been able to even get an interview ( with a clean criminal record ).. The economy is just god awful and I hear on the new that unemployment is down. Not counting the people like me who's unemployment has run out and are still unable to find full time or decant part time jobs the percent of unemployed is much higher. It just really pissed me off to hear that I won't even be considered for who knows how long now because of this nonsense.

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