October 26, 2010
Jason Fornicola
(202) 639-6448

Union for Federal Prison Officers Reacts to Inspector General’s Prison Recycling Program Report

WASHINGTON - The Council of Prison Locals (CPL) of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) today responded to a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General that found staff and inmates at several Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities have been exposed to toxic metals including cadmium and lead. The exposure occurred in the electronic waste recycling program run by the Federal Prison Industries – also known as UNICOR. The report concluded that the UNICOR recycling program did not value worker safety and environmental protection.

“The inspector general’s findings are in line with what we’ve been saying for years,” 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 must hold BOP and UNICOR managers accountable for their actions and put appropriate safety measures in place to protect our staff.”

Several BOP facilities had UNICOR e-waste 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. “The truth about these toxic exposures is finally coming out,” 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 16,115 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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