August 05, 2011
Jason Fornicola
(202) 639-6448

Union for Federal Prison Officers Decries BOP's Failure to Implement UNICOR Safety Improvements

WASHINGTON—The Council of Prison Locals (CPL) of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) today criticized the Bureau of Prison’s (BOP) failure to implement safety recommendations to its Federal Prison Industries program – also known as UNICOR.

Last year, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found staff and inmates at several BOP facilities were exposed to toxic metals including cadmium and lead. The exposure occurred in the electronic waste recycling program run by UNICOR. The report concluded that the UNICOR recycling program did not value worker safety and environmental protection.

“It’s unconscionable that BOP has yet to implement the inspector general’s recommendations to ensure worker safety,” said CPL President Bryan Lowry. “Our staff members were exposed to dangerous levels of toxic metals, which BOP knew about and allowed to continue. The inspector general concluded improvements were needed, yet we’re still waiting on the agency to put these safety measures in place to protect our staff,” Lowry added.

“This is a critical situation that must be addressed,” said AFGE National President John Gage. “We’re calling on the attorney general to make certain BOP implements the full recommendations of the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General,” Gage continued.

In addition to the inspector general’s recommendations, AFGE and CPL also asked that the agency hire a neutral certified industrial hygienist to ensure the recommendations were implemented, which the agency also rejected.

Several BOP facilities had UNICOR e-recycling operations, including the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Elkton, Ohio, where air quality was not monitored and staff and inmates were not provided protective equipment while breaking down computer monitors. “I’m shocked and disappointed that BOP refuses to implement the inspector general’s recommendations,” said AFGE Local 607 Vice President Bill Meek, who represents workers at FCI – Elkton. “Our primary concern has always been the safety of our staff, and we’ll continue to fight for that.”

CPL has been an advocate of the UNICOR work program, which provides inmates an opportunity to earn money, learn marketable skills, and become productive members of society once their incarceration ends. The program also keeps inmates occupied and out of trouble, which leads to a more safe and secure prison environment.

The UNICOR 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 nearly 19,000 prison inmates 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 UNICOR factories must maintain a record of good behavior and must have completed high school or be making steady progress toward a General Education Degree.

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