WASHINGTON – Defying staffing mandates and the need for increased hiring to safeguard prisons, this week the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) made public it is initiating a process of eliminating jobs within the agency. The mandate will slash roughly 14 percent of positions from correctional facilities. The proposed cuts are coming at a time of severe understaffing in most of its prisons. BOP has left thousands of authorized correctional workers’ positions vacant all year, endangering inmates in its custody, control, and care.
“President Trump came into office preaching about the need for a safer America, but instead he is putting the lives of federal law enforcement officers and our communities at risk.” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. “The men and women who risk their lives guarding our prisons deserve proper staffing levels to ensure they can do their job and make it home safe. This mandate is bad for citizens, it's bad for prison staff, and it's bad for inmates."
The announced cuts follow BOP’s decision in 2005 to begin the “Mission Critical” initiative, which cut correctional staff across the board in all departments to a minimum number of workers necessary to operate prisons safely. Unsurprisingly, the problem with the initiative came with the lack of consideration for workers on sick leave, military service leave, and other absences.
With less correctional officers in the prisons, BOP has turned to augmentation – when there aren’t enough officers employed or scheduled that day, which means other employees such as cooks, foremen, secretaries, electricians, teachers, accountants, or counselors are “augmented” to replace officers inside the prison – to fill the gaps in staffing. This results in situations where inexperienced workers are required to work in positions they are not properly trained for. This also results in less non-custody staff able to respond to emergencies in the prison in the event of violence. Augmentation can result in one correctional worker supervising hundreds of dangerous prisoners, including terrorists, gangs, and murderers inside each facility with no backup.
“Our communities know peace only because our correctional workers take great pride in the work they do for the American people, and they do it well,” said AFGE Council of Prison Locals President Eric Young. “But it’s becoming much harder to be successful when we’re understaffed for the task at hand. President Trump declared he would be the ‘law and order’ President. Currently, we see the Administration turning a blind eye to the needs of the public servants who have dedicated their careers to safeguarding our nation’s prisons. Our hope is he will fulfill his campaign promise to these law enforcement officers and will also discontinue enriching his campaign's backers, private prisons.”
"The impact of these shortages already is hitting correctional facilities hard in middle America. U.S. Penitentiary, Lee, in southwest Virginia has seen 62 positions cut from its staff," said Brian Shoemaker, president of AFGE Local 1405. "With less correctional officers to maintain order and rehabilitate inmates, Shoemaker says it’s becoming more dangerous and difficult for his members to do their job. The prison is currently in a lockdown status because of institution disturbance. Incidences of attempted escapes where inmates were caught between the fences has been previously reported.
“I feel that the administration is setting our agency up for failure,” Shoemaker said. “As violence and recidivism rises, our staff struggles to meet accreditation requirements, and we will be blamed for these failures. Then, the Administration will point to this as an excuse to contract out our law enforcement role to the private prison industry.”
The process of contracting more correctional work to private corporations is already starting. In a recently leaked memo, the administration plans to outsource more work and more inmates to private contract prisons.
The Jan. 24 memo from Assistant Director of the Correctional Programs Division Frank Lara read: “In order to alleviate the overcrowding at Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) institutions and to maximize the effectiveness of the private contracts, effective the date of this memorandum, please submit eligible inmates for re-designation to the Designation and Sentence Computation Center for transfer consideration to private contract facilities.”
Says AFGE’s Shoemaker, “The highly trained staff that work for this agency have already proven that we provide this essential, inherently governmental function in a much more responsible and cost-effective manner than the private industry. The historical data and evidence backs that up unquestionably. But if we allow the administration to sabotage our operations with these dangerous staffing changes and policies, I’m confident that they will use the results against us, and I’m sure the shareholders in the private prison industry will profit from it.”