Workers call for more staff at federal prison in Pollock

They walked up and down the block of Murray Street holding AFGE signs and some that read “More staff equals safe staff.”

Brian Richmond, president of the local AFGE chapter, said the 3-hour protest was about bringing awareness to the danger understaffed prisons pose for officers.

“We’re out here today to bring awareness that we need more staff in Pollock,” said Richmond, also a correctional officer at the U.S. Penitentiary in Pollock. “We want the DOP (Department of Prisons) to hire more staff.”

Richmond wants more staff and more protective equipment. The ratio at the prison is about 120 inmates to one officer in housing units, and each officer has a can of pepper spray.

He said the protest follows an assault on an officer about two months ago.

“He was stabbed multiple times,” Richmond said.

Richmond said this officer wasn’t the first assault at Pollock, with three staff members “almost killed” in the last six months.

While some walked with signs, others held a large banner with names of “a sampling” of officers that have been assaulted at the prison since it opened 13 years ago. There have been no deaths.

“The recent assaults have all been in housing units,” Richmond said. “Their (the officers’) protection is very limited. ... We’re asking for Congress and the Senate to fund us at an adequate level to give us what we need.”

Two officers working together in housing units is not a new concept, according to Dale Deshotel, national president of Council of Prisons Locals.

Deshotel said the the 13 federal penitentiaries nationwide had two officers stationed in housing units until a 2005 cost-saving initiative called “Mission Critical” removed one officer from the units.

He said the change has resulted in the deaths of two officers in California and Pennsylvania.

“We came really too close here at home in Pollock,” Deshotel said, referring to recent assaults at the prison. “Our cry is getting louder. We want Congress to realize the danger of the situation. ... We need that officer back in housing units.”

Clifton Buchanan, south central regional vice president of the Council of Prisons, echoed Deshotel’s cry for 9,000 more officers nationwide.

“The Bureau of Prisons decided to cut costs, (but) we cannot afford the ultimate price,” Buchanan said. “We want to bring awareness so we don’t have to.”

Buchanan said now is the time for change.

“Enough is enough,” Buchanan said. “The time has come to fund us so we can do our job.”

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