For years, the correctional workers in the federal Bureau of Prisons have done more with less. Facing the threat of even more staffing cuts to their workforce, the Council of Prison Locals held a Senate roundtable this week to make it clear: fewer correctional workers mean more dangerous prisons and less safe communities.
"Right now, the administration is trying to unilaterally eliminate the 6,000 authorized positions that were given the Bureau of Prisons to fill each unit," said AFGE Council of Prison Locals President Eric Young "These positions were deemed as mission critical by the Bureau of Prisons to maintain minimum level of safety within our nation's prisons. How can you gut the very staffing positions that you need to run safe prisons?"
The roundtable also discussed the dangers of prison privatization and augmentation, a practice of placing non-custodial correctional workers in custodial roles when officers are unavailable. Young, who served as a correctional officer for 23 years, explained how violent inmates often target these staff members and create more dangerous conditions in the prisons.
"Inmates know new staff when they come in," Young said. "These are teachers, cooks, secretaries. It is not in their job description to supervise violent inmates. And it makes for less safe correctional facilities, and less safe communities."
Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana and dozens of Senate staff attended the roundtable on Tuesday, with the intention of finding solutions to understaffing and unsafe conditions in the federal corrections system. Citing Indiana's high security prison in Terra Haute in his state, Donnelly agreed that our federal prison staffing levels have not kept up with inmate populations.
"All prisons need to be staffed by the appropriate number of people, to do the work that needs to be done," he said. "The people who work there shouldn't be put in unsafe situations."