WASHINGTON—A recent outbreak of violence at Federal Correctional Institution – Ray Brook in upstate New York has led the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and its Council of Prison Locals (CPL) to once again request immediate action from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to correct the dangerous situation of understaffed and underfunded federal prisons. According to AFGE Local 3882 officials, two gang-related incidents led to the hospitalization of one inmate and the near-assault of a correctional officer. Despite the violence, prison management mostly kept operations running normally.
“The warden’s refusal to lock down FCI – Ray Brook in the wake of this violence is nothing more than a dismissal of reality,” said CPL President Bryan Lowry. “Management continues to turn a blind eye toward dangerous situations that put correctional officers, inmates, and the surrounding communities at risk, while categorizing each instance as an isolated incident. The union believes this is management’s attempt to lessen the seriousness of each occurrence.”
Members of the Council of Prison Locals have testified on Capitol Hill regarding the dangers of working in understaffed and underfunded federal prisons. The union has repeatedly asked for additional staff and the proper use of appropriated funds to ensure the safety and security of the nation’s federal prison system.
Specifically, CPL wants BOP to:
• Fully staff and fund its prisons – Right now the inmate-to-staff ratio is 150:1 on most correctional assignments and too often can be as high as 300:1. Correctional officers are unarmed inside the facility.
• Responsibly issue stab-resistant vests to correctional officers – Assaults on officers with homemade weapons have spiked in recent years.
• Issue pepper spray to correctional staff – This less lethal weaponry would provide correctional officers the ability to protect themselves when violent outbreaks occur, and more easily restore order to the facility.
• Continue the Federal Prison Industries (FPI) program – FPI recently announced it would eliminate factories at nine facilities, downsize operations at three additional locations, and reduce personnel at eight more locations throughout the country – a move that union officials say could lead to potential violence at facilities with hundreds of idle inmates.
The FPI prison inmate work program is an important management tool that federal correctional officers and staff use to deal with the huge increase in the BOP prison inmate population. It helps keep 16,115 prison inmates, down from 23,152 two years ago, productively occupied in labor-intensive activities, thereby reducing inmate idleness and the violence associated with that idleness. It also provides strong incentives to encourage good inmate behavior, as those who want to work in FPI factories must maintain a record of good behavior and must have completed high school or be making steady progress toward a General Education Degree (GED).
“The days of ‘doing more with less’ must end,” added Lowry. “If management continues to operate the BOP under its current conditions – understaffed, overcrowded, and with an increasingly violent inmate population – more tragic incidents are sure to follow.”
For more information on assaults throughout the BOP, go to www.cpl33.info