Unionized federal corrections officers: Trump makes a bad shortage worse

WASHINGTON—Republican President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts for the year starting Oct. 1 will make a bad shortage of corrections officers in the nation’s federal prisons worse, the union that represents them says.

 

And that should concern everybody, adds Eric Young, president of the Council of Prison Locals, a Government Employees (AFGE) sector.

 

That’s because other Bureau of Prisons workers, especially those whose normal assignments – such as mental health, physical health and vocational training – are supposed to prepare inmates for a peaceful return to external society, can’t.

 

They’re busy subbing for missing corrections officers and would have to sub for 1,000 more COs whom Trump wants to cut, Young says. And like the COs, the other workers don’t know when they leave for work in the morning if they’ll be returning home safely that night.

 

 

Young issued the warning at a late-June press conference his council called to mark the 10th anniversary of inmates’ slaying of corrections officer Jose Rivera in Pennsylvania. Rivera was stabbed more than 20 times. “I spoke to his widow last night and told her we would not forget him,” Young explained, standing in front of photos of Rivera and other CO victims.

 

Rivera’s death, and subsequent injuries and deaths on the job among federal corrections officers – many of whom are military veterans – highlighted not just the officer shortage but also that the Bureau of Prisons has often left its officers under-armed against violent and hostile inmates.

 

The officer shortage is so bad that BOP now routinely orders non-corrections officers, such as doctors, nurses, cafeteria workers, secretaries and occupational teachers, to handle corrections officers’ jobs. That leaves one CO — or a little-trained non-officer — to monitor more than 100 inmates on each prison tier, many of them violent.

 

“Too often our professionals are being assaulted and killed in the line of duty,” Young told a press conference in D.C. After showing a video of several inmates beating, kicking and badly injuring another corrections officer, who survived but was hospitalized for weeks, Young asked: “Why do we have to wait for something like this before getting protective action?”

 

Instead of helping the corrections officers, Trump is going the other way, though many of them voted for him, Young noted. He said Trump’s budget proposes cutting more than 1,000 officers, and the force is already 6,000 below its maximum authorized strength to guard 192,000 federal inmates in 122 prisons nationwide. That doesn’t count 32,000 other inmates in privately run “contract prisons.”

 

Thus, the use of the non-officers on guard.

 

“When Trump was running, he vowed to be a strong law-and-order president,” said Young, himself a long-time corrections officer and military veteran. “But his administration is literally cutting our budget.” Trump’s budget plan envisions flat funding for BOP, at just over $7 billion yearly, and a 1,000-person cut in total employment, to 35,786.

 

Young and his colleagues spent the day, June 20, lobbying lawmakers to reverse Trump’s cuts. They drew support from two Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers, and bipartisan letters went to the Justice Department protesting Trump’s cuts.

 

“The Bureau of Prisons said they’ll cut actual full-time employees” – the corrections officers – “not just unfilled positions,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. “But augmentation,” the official name for substituting the cafeteria workers, nurses and others for the COs, “creates serious security risks. Congress told the bureau to ‘stop it’ and I’ll follow that up.”

 

“If we keep underfunding and understaffing the federal prisons, the question is not if we’ll lose another corrections officer, but when,” Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, concluded.

 

Source: PAI