WASHINGTON— The Council of Prison Locals (CPL) of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) met with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) yesterday to discuss policy changes for improving the safety and security of BOP institutions in light of the recent murder of Jose Rivera, a correctional officer at the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, Calif. Rivera was killed when inmates with homemade weapons attacked him on Friday June 20, 2008.
For years, AFGE and CPL have been advocates for additional staffing and funding throughout the BOP in an effort to safely maintain our nation’s prisons and surrounding communities. Continued lack of funding and inadequate staffing throughout the BOP has left federal correctional officers and the surrounding communities in grave danger. Staffing levels are decreasing while inmate population levels are increasing.
Correctional Officer and CPL Legislative Coordinator Phil Glover gave the dire facts. “The BOP system is currently operating at an 85% staffing level with prisons being overcrowded by nearly 25%. It’s an extremely dangerous situation to be in – dangerous for the correctional officers, dangerous for the inmates and dangerous for the communities that surround the prison.”
The Council of Prison Locals has called on the Justice Department for emergency funding to immediately alleviate the risk to correctional officers, as well as for several changes in policy for the BOP including:
- Placing two correctional officers in each High Security housing unit for all shifts where there is currently only one officer.
- Issuing all BOP correctional officers “stab proof” vests.
- Equipping and training all BOP correctional officers with non-lethal weaponry such as batons, pepper spray and TASER guns.
- Reviewing and correcting the inmate classification system to make sure that more violent inmates or inmates with a history of violence are not moved down to lower security levels.
- Overhauling the surveillance camera system so correctional officers in the Control Center can randomly observe prison inmates for possible violent activities.
“These are but a few of the measures we feel will be necessary to ensure the safety of our correctional officers and the safety of the surrounding communities,” said CPL President Bryan Lowry. “Our goal is to prevent further harm or deaths. Never again should the family, friends and co-workers of a BOP staff member have to deal with such a preventable loss as the Rivera family.”
The prisons today are not the prisons of yesterday. Inmates are younger. They are more aggressive. There are more gangs. And the staffing is terrible. We need more staff to get the job done; it’s as simple as that. A decrease in staffing levels makes our prisons and communities less safe,” continued Lowry.
Glover added, “You have to give us a chance in there. Give us a way to defend ourselves. Give us another officer to watch our backs.”
“Unfortunately, we have too many examples of what happens when the BOP is underfunded and understaffed,” said AFGE National President John Gage. “Jose Rivera had no protective gear and no weapon with which to protect himself when he was brutally murdered. He was fitted with only a radio. We need to get all of our correctional officers, at the very least, stab proof vests. Ideally, the officers also would have non-lethal weapons. These things are common sense.”