Correctional officers are attacked by violent inmates almost daily. Some have been killed. Clearly, something needs to be done about it.
At a Senate hearing on challenges facing the federal prison system on Tuesday, AFGE’s Council of Prison Locals President Eric Young submitted a statement asking Congress to protect officers by allowing BOP to segregate violent inmates into secure housing units.
Young explained that BOP has an effective system in place to separate the most dangerous criminals from less violent inmates, and that this systematic segregation has helped to curb deadly violence against both inmates and staff. There should be no change to current practices as we need to be able to protect these employees from those who have demonstrated their intention to harm other inmates and staff.
"There must be places in our special housing units, the jails inside the prisons, to house inmates who fall into such categories," said Young, a 20-year veteran of BOP. "We must be able to restrict and restrain inmates before their behavior escalates. And we must have deterrent mechanisms in place to control inmates' behavior otherwise it creates anarchy in a prison setting."
Young also brought up another important safety issue: overcrowding. Hundreds of thousands of Americans with low-level, non-violent offenses have been thrown in jail with long sentences due to harsh sentencing guidelines, resulting in massive overcrowding that threatens both inmate and correctional officer safety alike. Non-violent drug offenders and people with mental illnesses, who are often too poor to get treatment, end up behind bars instead of treatment facilities. As a result, the United States locks away its own citizens more than any other country in the world: 2.2 million – way more than China and Russia which came in second and third. While the United States’ population accounts for 5% of the world’s population, it accounts for 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. Clearly something has fallen out of balance.
Young urges Congress to pass the Smarter Sentencing Act to help reduce the exploding inmate population. The bill would give judges discretion to reduce minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders who, under current laws, could be locked away for 20 years at a minimum.
“Nationally, BOP institutions are operating at 30% above rated capacity, with our high security facilities 52% above rated capacity and medium security facilities 39% above rated capacity,” Young said. “This serious threat to officer safety is why the Council of Prison Locals has endorsed legislation that will provide much needed reform to federal sentencing.”
Young also urged the committee to strengthen the inmate work program to keep inmates productive and help deal with the increase in prison population as federal prisons hold the most violent inmates in the country.
“No state, county or municipality can begin to compare in terms of the volume or the severity of the types of inmates we have system-wide. In fact, they often turn to us to house the ones they cannot handle or control,” he said.
Young urged the committee to stop the increasing dependency on private prison contractors to supervise and imprison the country's inmates, pointing to the private prisons' high rates of employee turnover and dangerous records of low performance and inmate assault.
In recent years, the federal government and some state and local governments have experimented with prison privatization as a way to solve the overcrowding of our nation’s prisons—a crisis precipitated by increased incarceration rates and politicians’ reluctance to provide more prison funding. But results of these experiments have demonstrated little evidence that prison privatization is a cost-effective or high-quality alternative to government-run prisons.