As the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) continues to grapple with understaffing and further cuts, five federal prisons are beginning to receive more than 1,600 ICE detainees.
The massive influx of new detainees will exacerbate the short-staffed prisons, endangering the lives of correctional officers, inmates, detainees themselves, and the surrounding communities.
AFGE Council of Prison Locals, which represents more than 33,000 BOP employees nationwide, has been urging Congress to increase staffing and has pushed back against the administration’s decision to slash 6,000 positions from correctional facilities.
“The men and women who work at the Bureau of Prisons risk their lives every day they show up to work, and now they’re being asked to jeopardize themselves further by looking after an even larger population without the proper training, support, or planning,” said Council President Eric Young. “How are our officers supposed to protect and care for these detainees when they barely have enough resources to care for the prisoners under their charge now?”
Federal Correctional Complex Victorville is one of BOP’s largest correctional complexes and contains United States Penitentiary, Victorville and two medium security facilities. Victorville is the largest recipient of detainees with roughly 1,000 taken into custody over the last week. Staffing levels there are already below the minimum mission critical requirement, and according to officials, no new hiring is scheduled to take place. Staff at Victorville who are not correctional officers, e.g. accountants, teachers, food service workers, will be “augmented” and tasked to work as officers to oversee the detainees and prisoners.
“Right now, we don’t have enough correctional officers at our facility,” said AFGE Local 3969 President John Kostelnik, who represents workers at Victorville. “And instead of addressing that issue and working to keep our officers safe, we are being told to accommodate a 27% increase of individuals in our custody. It’s unbelievable, especially when the rationale is that ‘it’s only 120 days.’ It only takes a few seconds for an inmate to hurt or kill an officer, so what will happen in the next 120 days?”
According to agency officials, the detainees being sent to federal prisons are only scheduled to be there for around 120 days, but there is no guarantee that won’t last longer. ICE has said they will send temporary medical staff to Victorville for the next 96 hours to assist with the intake of detainees, but once that is complete, the existing over-capacity medical staff will be forced to care for 1,000 more people – many of whom could have communicable diseases like tuberculosis.
ICE also said they would have translators sent to the prison “when needed,” but otherwise correctional workers will deal with a large, diverse, non-English speaking population housed in the same prison conditions as current inmates.
“Just a couple months ago, officials at the prison closed nine housing units due to a shortage of staff,” Young said. “Now, those very officials are opening up all those housing units to make room for these detainees with no additional staff coming onboard. It’s a recipe for disaster just waiting to happen.”
We’re taking this to Washington
The AFGE Council of Prison Locals is holding a press conference to detail staffing shortages at federal prisons nationwide.
Date: Wednesday, June 20
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Location: National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Come join us!