On May 30, 2014, two inmates at USP Lee, a high-security federal prison in Pennington Gap, VA tried to escape.
The two inmates exited their cells, rappelled down the wall of a third floor cell-block into a dead space between a building and a corridor, and then hid behind electrical transformers for hours before attempting to cross the fence. While the prisoners were armed, correctional officers at USP Lee were able to secure the inmates without further incident.
The prison was placed under lockdown and an emergency count of other inmates was held. The prisoners were able to get past a guard tower in their attempt to escape, a tower no longer staffed because of budget cuts.
Council of Prison Locals (CPL) president Eric Young says that this scary and unsettling escape attempt is endemic of federal prisons, where cost-cutting has become a higher priority than the safety of correctional officers – leading to fewer officers in increasingly overcrowded prisons.
“It appears the only time anyone likely will pay attention is when the unthinkable occurs which is unfortunate,” Young said. “This past week escape attempt at USP Lee was a realization of what is possible when the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) does not have the proper resources it needs to operate and run safe and secure prisons.”
This event reemphasizes why the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the CPL have initiated the Safe Prisons Project campaign. The Safe Prisons Project was designed to bring awareness to the public on the plight of federal prisons.
In past years, officers have been killed at USP Atwater in CA and most recently at USP Canaan, PA this past year. Eric Williams was alone working with 130 high security inmates when he was stabbed 129 times and killed by an inmate after being stabbed 129 times. Williams’ situation is not uncommon – due to overcrowding and understaffing, correctional officers are outnumbered by inmates 5 to 1. Young says that these dangerous conditions could all be improved with more funding to federal prisons.
“To not provide BOP the necessary funding to operate safe prisons is highly irresponsible,” Young said. “It is my purview, any Legislators who stands in defense of these antiquated mandatory minimum and drug sentence laws are tantamount responsible for the plight of prisons. It is my belief they should be held accountable for anything that occurs in federal prisons to date especially, after our repeated attempts to inform them of the systemic plight of federal prisons budget issues which has populations bursting at the seams with overcrowding and violence.”