WASHINGTON – The union representing correctional officers and staff at Federal Correctional Complex Florence in Colorado is echoing a call from lawmakers for the federal government to address critical staffing shortages that are endangering the lives of employees and inmates at the prison complex.
FCC Florence is short at least 136 officers and is operating with 59% of the full-time staff needed to run the facility, with more vacancies expected at the end of the year – making it one of the least staffed federal prisons in the country. The chronic understaffing has resulted in officers working vast amounts of forced overtime and non-officer employees including medical staff and counselors being assigned to work as correctional officers under a process called augmentation.
“We are unable to recruit and retain officers and staff due to the high cost of living in Colorado, salaries that are far below what other employers offer, and the long time it takes to bring on new employees,” American Federation of Government Employees Local 1169 President John Butkovich said. “We’re in a critical situation that will only get worse unless something is done soon.”
On Dec. 8, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper of Colorado sent a letter to Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal and Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja, urging approval of AFGE Local 1169’s request to provide 25% retention pay to all employees at the facility and authorize direct hiring authority for the facility to reduce the time it takes to hire staff.
“We believe these steps are necessary to improve recruitment and retention of new staff, and to retain the existing staff,” the lawmakers wrote.
In September, OPM approved a similar request from AFGE and lawmakers to provide 25% retention pay to all officers and staff at the high-security US Penitentiary Thomson in northern Illinois to address recruitment and retention issues there.
While understaffing is an issue at many Bureau of Prisons facilities, it’s particularly problematic at FCC Florence due to the prison’s distinction as having the most secure facility in the country. FCC Florence comprises four facilities: the minimum-security Federal Prison Camp, the medium-security Federal Correctional Institution, the high-security United States Penitentiary, and the supermax Administrative Maximum Facility.
There have been six serious staff assaults in the past six months and two inmate homicides in the past nine months.
“Our members literally put their lives on the line every day they come to work, and the massive staffing vacancies risk turning a dangerous job into a deadly one,” Butkovich said. “This is an untenable situation, and we need immediate help before something truly tragic happens.”