By James Parks for AFL-CIO NOW
For years, AFGE’s Council of Prison Locals (CPL), the union representing correctional officers in the nation’s federal prisons, has been pushing for more funding and staffing to safely maintain our nation’s prisons and surrounding communities. The union warns that staffing levels are decreasing while inmate population levels are increasing, leaving the correctional officers and the communities in grave danger.
Tragically, on June 20, those warnings were realized when Jose Rivera, a correctional officer at the U.S. Penitentiary in
Says CPL President Bryan Lowry:
"We can no longer turn a blind eye to the critical situation inside our nation’s federal prisons. What happened to Jose Rivera sends a clear message that now is the time for change throughout the BOP. We must protect our correctional officers so this type of horrific tragedy doesn’t happen in the future. We need more staff to get the job done; it’s as simple as that. A decrease in staffing levels makes our prisons and communities less safe."
Our federal prisons house some of the nation’s most dangerous convicted criminals, including gang members and terrorists such as Eric Rudolph, Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber) and Zacarias Moussaoui.
More than 200,000 inmates are confined in BOP institutions today, up from 25,000 in 1980, from 58,000 in 1990 and from 145,000 in 2000. By 2010, it is expected there will be 215,000 prison inmates in BOP institutions.
The overcrowding at federal prisons is part of the ballooning
In fact, more than 1 in 100 American adults were incarcerated at the start of 2008. Federal prisons and state facilities in
To make matters worse, the number of federal correctional officers who staff federal prisons is failing to keep pace with the tremendous growth in the inmate population. The BOP system is currently staffed at an 89 percent level, compared with the 95 percent staffing levels of the mid-1990s.
A recent Justice Department study showed an increase of 15.5 percent in inmate attacks on other inmates and a 6 percent increase in inmate attacks on corrections officers in federal prisons.
In 2006, the BOP faced a $242 million shortfall that required cutbacks in staffing, training, equipment and vehicles. That shortfall has not been covered in subsequent budgets. For example, the current BOP budget, which was set by a congressional conference committee, provides only $55 million for increases in salaries and personnel. That is well below AFGE’s estimate of $430 million that is needed to bring the prison staffs up to safe levels. It is also $100 million less than President Bush and both houses of Congress recommended.
The CPL also is fighting against efforts by the Bush administration and extremist Republicans to redefine the term “law enforcement officer” to exclude federal prison support staff for pay and retirement purposes, and to move federal inmates into private prisons. The union also is opposing plans to shut down the Federal Prison Industries prison inmate work program.
Some members in Congress are listening. Last week on the House floor, Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) said Rivera’s death should spur action to protect those who work in our federal prisons:
"Atwater Penitentiary is operating at 85 percent staffing and at 25 percent over capacity for inmate levels. As we honor Officer Rivera’s legacy of commitment and service to our country, his senseless death is a reminder that we must provide adequate funds to keep our prisons and communities safe."