WASHINGTON – The head of the union representing correctional officers at federal prisons says prison staff and inmates could be at greater risk if lawmakers limit the use of restrictive or specialized housing.
Eric Young, president of the American Federation of Government Employees’ Council of Prison Locals, says isolating and removing violent and dangerous inmates from general population settings is a vital tool to ensuring the safety of prison staff and other inmates.
“We must be able to restrict and restrain inmates before their behavior escalates. And we must have deterrent mechanisms in place to control inmates’ behavior before it creates anarchy in a prison setting,” Young said in testimony submitted today to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. “We cannot have staff and inmates being targeted for assaults and certainly cannot allow anyone to be murdered without consequence.”
The subcommittee hearing occurred on the one-year anniversary of the death of Correctional Officer Eric Williams, who was murdered by an inmate while working in a housing unit at the high security prison in Canaan, Pa. The inmate who murdered Williams stabbed him 129 times and beat him so badly that his skull was crushed and he was unrecognizable to his parents.
The day after Williams’ murder, Lt. Osvaldo Albarati was killed in an ambush attack while he was driving home from the Metropolitan Detention Center Guaynabo in San Juan, Puerto Rico. All indications are that his murder was a result of his work at the prison.
The rate of killings and other violent assaults no doubt would be higher if not for the policies and procedures that have been developed and refined over the years by professional staff, including the use of restrictive housing and specialized facilities like the Administrative Maximum Security (ADX) prison in Florence, Co., Young said. “Decisions that our staff make each and every day in terms of whether inmates should remain in general population or be transferred to restricted housing units have real implications for the safety and well-being of our sworn law enforcement officers,” Young said.
“The theories, research and positive sentiments expressed on behalf of the inmates who are isolated from the general population are certainly worthy of discussion and debate. But at the end of the day, the security of our prisons and the safety of our staff, the general inmate population, and the American public must be paramount.”
Only 413 of the 215,000 inmates throughout the federal prison system are housed at the supermax facility in Colorado, reflecting the judicious placement of inmates at the highest security facility, Young said. Of the 413, 194 have a history of homicide in the community, 121 have a history of homicide while in the Control Unit and 58 have a history of homicide while in the general prison setting.
Across the 119 prisons in the federal system, more than 20,000 inmates are associated with gangs, while more than 400 inmates have been identified as international or domestic terrorists. The prison system houses large numbers of drug offenders, many with ties to international cartels and major narcotics traffickers, as well as assorted weapons offenders, sex offenders, murderers and robbers.
“The BOP is not home to large numbers of white-collared criminals as it once incarcerated. Nor should it be still caricatured as ‘Club-Fed.’ No State, county or municipality can begin to compare in terms of the volume or the severity of the types of inmates we have system-wide. In fact, they often turn to us to house the ones they cannot handle or control,” Young said. “We have the most violent inmate populations of any correctional system in the world today, and, we do so while ensuring their humane treatment and also providing opportunities for self-improvement.”