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Hundreds of jobs currently done by state prison guards can be performed safely and at less expense by civilians, state Corrections Commissioner Thomas A. Coughlin III said Tuesday.

Coughlin sought to assure the Senate Crime and Correction Committee that the prison system would not be less safe because of cost-cutting measures that include layoffs, consolidating services and a special disciplinary prison. He said his department has studied 1,000 jobs done by prison guards and identified nearly 400 that could be done by civilians.

This does not mean that all those guards would be replaced, he said.

But Coughlin, who has proposed firing 296 guards to help the state deal with a projected $1 billion deficit in the state's $50 billion budget, acknowledged that more layoffs are likely next year but would not estimate how many.

The types of jobs done by guards that might be filled by civilians, according to Coughlin, could include locksmith, computer operator, schedule-maker and employee cafeteria worker.

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