WASHINGTON – As the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) continues to grapple with understaffing and further cuts, five federal prisons are beginning to receive more than 1,600 ICE detainees. The massive influx of both refugees and asylum seekers will exacerbate the short-staffed prisons, endangering the lives of Correctional Officers, inmates, detainees, and the surrounding communities as the Bureau of Prisons scrambles to get prepared.
“What the President and Attorney General are doing is unconscionable,” said AFGE Council of Prison Locals President Eric Young. The Council, which represents more than 33,000 Bureau of Prisons employees nationwide, has been urging Congress to increase staffing and has pushed back against the administration’s decision to slash 6,000 positions from correctional facilities.
“The men and women who work at the Bureau of Prisons risk their lives every day they show up to work, and now they’re being asked to jeopardize themselves further by looking after an even larger population without the proper training, support, or planning,” said Young, adding, “how are our officers supposed to protect and care for these detainees when they barely have enough resources to care for the prisoners under their charge now?”
FCC Victorville is one of BOP’s largest correctional complexes and contains United States Penitentiary, Victorville and two medium security facilities. Victorville is the largest recipient of detainees with roughly 1,000 scheduled to arrive in the next few days. Staffing levels there are already below the minimum Mission Critical requirement, and according to officials, no new hiring is scheduled to take place. According to officials, staff at Victorville who are not Correctional Officers (e.g. accountants, teachers, food service workers) will be “augmented” and tasked to work as officers to oversee the detainees and prisoners.
“Right now, we don’t have enough Correctional Officers at our facility,” said AFGE Local 3969 President John Kostelnik, who represents workers at Victorville. “And instead of addressing that issue and working to keep our officers safe, we are being told to accommodate a 27 percent increase of individuals in our custody. It’s unbelievable, especially when the rationale is that ‘it’s only 120 days.’ It only takes a few seconds for an inmate to hurt or kill an officer, so what will happen in the next 120 days?”
According to agency officials, the detainees being sent to federal prisons are only scheduled to be there for around 120 days, but there is no guarantee that won’t last longer. ICE has said they will send temporary medical staff to Victorville for the next 96 hours to assist with the intake of detainees, but once that is complete, the existing over-capacity medical staff will be forced to care for 1,000 more people – many of whom could have communicable diseases like tuberculosis.
ICE also said they would have translators sent to the prison “when needed,” but otherwise correctional workers will deal with a large, diverse, non-English speaking population housed in the same prison conditions as current inmates.
“President Trump has come out and said that those detained coming into our country are sometimes terrorists and violent MS-13 gang members, but he’s doing nothing to ensure our safety. He can easily direct the hiring of more correctional officers to guard these detainees,” said Young. “I can’t believe that we are going to house 1,000 detainees alongside violent prisoners without proper screening, adequate staffing, or a plan that will protect the lives of our law enforcement officers,” he said. “Just a couple months ago, officials at the prison closed nine housing units due to a shortage of staff. Now, those very officials are opening up all those housing units to make room for these detainees with no additional staff coming onboard. It’s a recipe for disaster just waiting to happen!”