June 09, 2009
Jason Fornicola
(202) 639-6448

Federal Prisons are at Critical Juncture

WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents federal correctional officers throughout the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) 115 facilities, including Supermax, sounded the alarm today on the conditions in the nation’s prisons.

“We are at a critical juncture,” stated AFGE Council of Prison Locals President Bryan Lowry. “With Guantanamo Bay closing, we are faced with the most dangerous terrorists in the world being transferred into our prison system – a system that must be made safer. Overcrowding, underfunding and depriving our officers of the tools they need to defend themselves have weakened the safety of our prisons and we need to take action now.

“The BOP needs to fully staff and fund the agency, and provide correctional officers with stab resistant vests and non-lethal weaponry such as batons, pepper spray and TASER guns. We can’t risk not complying with these basic necessities.

“Before Guantanamo closes, Bureau of Prisons leadership needs to recognize the imminent threat that understaffing poses,” continued Lowry. “It is becoming a dangerous matter of life or death. We are tired of hearing about policy restrictions. We want our correctional officers to be protected on the job. Immediate action is the only acceptable outcome.”

Unfortunately, inaction already has had its toll. A recent internal BOP investigation found gross inadequacies and unconscionable conditions in the management and security controls at the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, California where Correctional Officer Jose Rivera was murdered on June 20, 2008.

Added AFGE National President John Gage, “What happened to Jose Rivera in Atwater is typical of the entire BOP system. Prisoners are armed with homemade weapons, they access or create intoxicants, and then threaten the safety and security of the entire facility. Our correctional officers deserve protection – protection that will allow them to go home to their families at night – something Jose Rivera didn’t have.”

Jose Rivera, 22, was employed as a correctional officer by the BOP for less than a year. He also was a Navy veteran and served two tours of duty in Iraq.

CPL and AFGE detailed the dangers of working in a federal prison. Federal correctional officers are unarmed and decreasing staffing levels put them at greater risk of an attack by an inmate.

Stab resistant vests and other protective equipment for correctional officers have become a top priority for CPL since the tragic death of Rivera. 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 have left federal correctional officers and the surrounding communities in grave danger. Staffing levels are decreasing while inmate population levels are increasing.

“The bottom line is that we are up to the challenge of safeguarding our communities and the public from the most dangerous criminals and terrorists in the country. We are proud to protect the American public from the worst the world has to offer,” concluded Lowry. “But at a minimum, give us the proper funding and the support we need to carry out our mission and get the job done.”

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