Council of Prison Locals Leadership Testify Before House Subcommittee on Critical Bureau of Prisons Issues
WASHINGTON—Representatives from the American Federation of Government Employees’ (AFGE) Council of Prison Locals (CPL), which represents federal correctional officers nationwide, testified during a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science hearing to address the critical situation facing the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
CPL President Bryan Lowry and Legislative Coordinator Phil Glover presented an often overlooked view of the BOP, which includes dangerously low staffing levels, a rising and more violent inmate population, and the lack of necessary protective equipment to ensure correctional officer safety.
In their written testimony, Lowry and Glover made recommendations on how to improve the BOP, including:
Increase federal funding of the BOP Salaries and Expenses account so BOP can hire additional correctional officer staff to return to the 95% staffing levels of the mid-1990s. Place two correctional officers in each high security penitentiary housing unit, particularly during the evening watch shift (3 p.m. to 11 p.m.), and placing at least one correctional officer in each medium and low security housing unit on all shifts. Issue all correctional officers with protective vests that are stab-resistant. Equip correctional officers with non-lethal weaponry, such as batons, pepper spray, and/or TASER guns. Training should include the appropriate use of such non-lethal weaponry so they are not used as a “first strike” response before other protective tactics are considered or attempted.
For years, CPL has fought for full staffing and funding throughout the BOP in an effort to combat a dramatic increase in violence. As inmate populations increased, staffing levels decreased, resulting in more assaults against correctional officers.
The situation culminated on June 20, 2008 with the tragic death of Jose Rivera, a correctional officer at the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, Calif. Rivera, 22, was killed while working alone by two inmates with homemade weapons. Rivera, a Navy veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq, was employed by the BOP for less than a year.
Rivera’s death drew nationwide attention to the critical situation inside the nation’s prisons. Unarmed and equipped with only a radio, a single correctional officer is often called upon to supervise hundreds of inmates at one time. Given the tragic circumstances surrounding Rivera’s death, CPL also has requested the immediate implementation of stab resistant vests throughout the BOP.
The union says serious inmate overcrowding and correctional worker understaffing plague the BOP system nationwide, and create hazardous conditions for federal prison inmates, federal correctional workers, and the communities in which they work.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.