Come January, penitentiary to house nation’s toughest

They are so dangerous to other inmates and prison staff that they will be confined to isolation cells 23 hours a day.

Yet communities surrounding the 1,000-acre, 76-year-old penitentiary need not worry. Not even the prison workers themselves, officials say.

Workers, however, remain concerned about safety inside the walls of the first super maximum-security facility in the country, which will house only the most disruptive federal inmates. Very little has been said to the staff about the impending transition, Wheeland said.

“The major concern is if there will be adequate staffing,” Wheeland said. “This has been a very violent year in the prison system, with one staff member killed (in California) as well as 18 inmates (at other facilities). These are the inmates — the worst of the worst — who we will be receiving at Lewisburg.”

Some of the staff has already received “displacement letters” indicating they will need to either find a job at another prison or risk losing their job altogether, Wheeland said. The local union represents more than 400 employees of unit management, food and mechanical services.

“With management not speaking on these issues, it’s impossible to know how the duties of staff will be affected,” Wheeland said. “If staffed at the appropriate levels, staff safety will not only improve at Lewisburg, but across the bureau as well by providing a secure institution to house the problem inmates who continuously cause disturbances in general prison populations nationwide.”

40 incidents at Lewisburg in 2008

A more secure facility will be welcome news to the Lewisburg staff that has handled 40 incidents this year involving inmates either fighting with one another or assaulting prison staff, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, Council of Prison Locals 33, which tracks incidents at federal prisons nationwide.

Nearly half of those incidents in Lewisburg have occurred just in the last two months, including five in October involving inmates injuring one another with weapons.

Despite an influx of 1,100 more feisty criminals known to cause problems at other institutions coming to Lewisburg, officials say the prison will have better control over the inmate population as it tightens security and becomes more of a lock-down prison.

The special management unit expansion means all inmates will be kept isolated for 23 hours a day and have limited visitation rights through only window-to-window contact. Therefore, there will be less potential for fights between inmates and attacks against staff, according to prison officials.

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