October 02, 2009
Jason Fornicola
(202) 639-6448

Union for Federal Prison Officers Alarmed by Recent Violence at FCI - Mckean

WASHINGTON—A recent outbreak of violence at the Federal Correctional Institution – McKean in western Pennsylvania has reignited efforts to secure full funding and staffing throughout the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). According to union officials at the facility, a fight between two rival gangs quickly turned into a full-scale riot involving more than 250 inmates. At least six inmates were taken to area hospitals with significant injuries.

“This type of violence, while alarming, happens in every federal prison facility across the country,” said Bryan Lowry, president of the American Federation of Government Employees’ (AFGE) Council of Prison Locals (CPL), which represents federal correctional officers at the BOP. “Management continues to turn a blind eye toward dangerous situations that put correctional officers, inmates, and the surrounding communities at risk.”

In recent months, the Council of Prison Locals has testified on Capitol Hill regarding the dangers of working in understaffed and underfunded federal prisons. The union has repeatedly asked for additional staff and the proper use of appropriated funds to ensure the safety and security of the nation’s federal prison system.

Specifically, CPL wants Congress to:

• Fully staff and fund the BOP – Right now the inmate-to-staff ratio can be as high as 150:1 and correctional officers are unarmed inside the facility.

• Issue stab-resistant vests to correctional officers – Assaults on officers with homemade weapons have spiked in recent years.

• Continue the Federal Prison Industries (FPI) program – FPI announced it would eliminate factories at 14 facilities and downsize operations at four additional locations throughout the country – a move that union officials say could lead to potential violence at facilities with hundreds of idle inmates.

The FPI prison inmate work program is an important management tool that federal correctional officers and staff use to deal with the huge increase in the BOP prison inmate population. It helps keep 21,836 prison inmates – or about 17% of the eligible inmate population – productively occupied in labor-intensive activities, thereby reducing inmate idleness and the violence associated with that idleness. It also provides strong incentives to encourage good inmate behavior, as those who want to work in FPI factories must maintain a record of good behavior and must have completed high school or be making steady progress toward a General Education Degree (GED).

CPL also has asked for a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder to address the issues at the BOP, including a request to replace Director Harley Lappin.

“The days of ‘doing more with less’ must end,” added Lowry. “It’s time to fix the BOP once and for all.”

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