TRAGIC SEQUESTER IMPACT: CORRECTIONS OFFICER’S DEATH CONSEQUENCE OF FEDERAL PRISON UNDERSTAFFING, OVERCROWDING, SAYS UNION
Council of Prison Locals President: Upcoming Furloughs Further Compromise Our Safety
Washington, DC—The tragic and brutal death of a federal corrections officer last week was the direct result of dangerous understaffing in our federal prison systems, according to the Council of Prison Locals, part of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). And if planned furloughs—scheduled to begin in April as part of the sequester—go into effect, even more lives could be put in danger, says the union’s president.
“Make no mistake: the sequester cuts will have a literal life-and-death impact on the thousands of corrections officers who are already working in dangerous conditions,” said Dale Deshotel, National President of the Council of Prison Locals. “Our prisons are overcrowded and understaffed—a lethal combination that will only be exacerbated by the upcoming furloughs.”
Last Monday, federal corrections officer Eric Williams, 34, was murdered by an inmate while working at the U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan near Scranton, PA. While preparing to lock inmates in their cells for the night, Williams was repeatedly stabbed and beaten to death. He was working alone to oversee 130 prisoners, and was equipped only with a radio, keys and handcuffs. United States Attorney General Eric Holder delivered the eulogy at Williams’ funeral on Friday.
The risks of a dangerously understaffed, overcrowded prison extend to the public as well as to the prison staff. In December 2012, two inmates – both convicted bank robbers-- escaped from a downtown Chicago federal prison just two weeks after budget problems caused the warden to initiate a policy that could have left critical posts empty, including leaving entire floors of inmates unsupervised rather than paying overtime to the officers.
“Congress needs to find a solution and soon,” continued Deshotel. “While other agencies may be able to find ways to do more with less, it’s a near-impossible task to maintain constant security of federal prisons with more inmates, fewer officers, and even less money. If we go forward with even more cuts, we won’t just be unable to protect our corrections officers; we’ll also be unable to protect the inmates themselves. The consequences could be disastrous.”
According to the 2012 Justice Department annual report, the system is 38 percent over capacity, a problem that the Department has identified as a major weakness. Sequestration will mean budget cuts of $338 million on the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which currently oversees over 217,000 inmates in the federal prison system. BOP expects that figure to rise to nearly 230,000 by the end of 2013.
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