September 19, 2013
Tim Kauffman
[email protected]

Understaffing, Overcrowding at Federal Prisons Causing Spike in Officer Assaults

WASHINGTON – Understaffing and overcrowding at federal prisons is causing a significant increase in inmate assaults on federal correctional workers, the leader of the union representing correctional officers said in testimony delivered today to the House Judiciary subcommittee that oversees the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

While the number of prison inmates in the 119 BOP-operated institutions has grown by 41% since fiscal 2000, the number of correctional workers has increased only 19%. As a result, the inmate-to-worker ratio has increased from 4 to 1 in fiscal 2000 to nearly 5 to 1 today.

“This significant increase in the inmate-to-worker ratio adversely impacts BOP’s ability to effectively supervise prison inmates and provide inmate programs,” Eric Young, president of the Council of Prison Locals, American Federation of Government Employees, said in testimony delivered to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

Hundreds of inmate-on-worker assaults have occurred at various prisons over the past several years, including the brutal stabbing murder of Correctional Officer Eric Williams in February by a prison inmate at U.S. Penitentiary Cannan in Pennsylvania and the shooting death of Lt. Osvaldo Albarati in February in an ambush attack while he was driving home from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

“The AFGE Council of Prison Locals believes these understaffing and overcrowding problems are the result of years of congressional underfunding of BOP,” Young said in his testimony.

Young also highlighted the need to change a BOP policy that bars officers from routinely carrying pepper spray in prisons. Last year, the agency launched a one-year pilot program allowing correctional officers to carry pepper spray at seven prisons. In the wake of Williams’ death, BOP agreed to expand its pepper spray pilot program to all high security institutions.

The Council of Prison Locals now is working to expand the pepper spray pilot project to include correctional officers who work in highly dangerous areas in all BOP prisons, while calling on the agency to institute a new pepper spray policy, Young said.

“A new pepper spray policy is vitally necessary because BOP prisons are significantly more violent than a few years ago because of serious correctional officer understaffing and prison inmate overcrowding – and because correctional officers are being forced to control more aggressively dangerous offenders, including more gang-affiliated inmates,” Young said.

A copy of Young’s testimony is at the following link:

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