WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Government Employees and its Council of Prison Locals today denounced current staffing and funding levels in the Bureau of Prisons as violence continues to plague the nation’s federal prison system. The union also renewed its call on the Obama administration, Congress and BOP to immediately increase the bureau’s staffing levels and expand the use of pepper spray for correctional officers in an effort to protect staff from continued violence throughout BOP.
The call for action follows another violent inmate-on-staff assault, most recently at the Federal Medical Center Devens in Massachusetts. Last week a correctional officer required treatment at a local hospital after being attacked by an inmate at the facility, which houses male offenders requiring specialized or long-term medical or mental health care. Another correctional officer was injured while responding to the incident.
“Once again we see the critical need for additional staff and protective equipment throughout BOP,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “Federal prisons are overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded. As long as this continues, correctional officers will be vulnerable to attacks like the one at FMC Devens.”
Last week, AFGE’s Council of Prison Locals held a press conference at the National Press Club to speak out against dangerously low staffing and funding levels in the Bureau of Prisons. Speakers included family members of three slain correctional officers. Jose Rivera, killed in 2008 by two inmates with homemade weapons at the U.S. Penitentiary Atwater in California, was represented by his mother, Terry. Don Williams spoke for his son, Eric Williams, who was killed in February while working at the U.S. Penitentiary Canaan in northeastern Pennsylvania. Osvaldo Albarati, who was killed in February in an ambush attack while he was driving home from the Metropolitan Detention Center Guaynabo in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was represented by wife, Helen Andujar.
The union says serious inmate overcrowding and correctional worker understaffing plague the BOP system nationwide, and create potentially hazardous conditions for federal prison inmates, correctional workers and the communities in which they work. The union also has been critical of the government shutdown and its impact on staff morale. BOP correctional officers have been deemed essential, which means they are required to work during the shutdown but will not be paid during that time.
“Correctional officers risk their lives every day to keep their communities and the American public safe,” said CPL President Eric Young. “They protect us from the nation’s most violent offenders and deserve the necessary protections to remain safe on the job. We’ll keep fighting until this becomes a reality.”
Last year, the Government Accountability Office issued a report that concluded overcrowded federal prisons put staff in danger. The report, “Growing Inmate Crowding Negatively Affects Inmates, Staff, and Infrastructure,” found BOP to be 39 percent over capacity and expects crowding to exceed 45 percent through 2018. The report also concluded increased inmate-to-staff ratios and inmate misconduct ultimately threaten the safety of BOP staff.
BOP correctional officers and other staff members inside federal prisons are unarmed, leaving them vulnerable to attacks by inmates with homemade weapons. For years, AFGE and CPL have fought not only for additional staffing and funding at BOP but also for protective equipment such as pepper spray. The need for additional resources can be seen with the countless violent outbreaks occurring at BOP facilities across the country. A correctional officer can be responsible for supervising as many as 150 inmates at once and is unarmed inside the facility. Low staffing levels and a more aggressive inmate population have led to a spike in violence – something AFGE says cannot continue.
For more information on the Council of Prison Locals, please visit www.cpl33.info.