By Wendy Holdren
A local president of the American Federation of Government Employees has written Congressman Nick Rahall to express his concerns over what he believes to be understaffing and overcrowding at the Federal Correctional Institution in McDowell County.
Charlie Yates said he is concerned that “the value of money is perceivably more important than a human life,” as the inmate-to-staff ratio at FCI McDowell creates an unsafe work environment.
Yates said when the FCI was being built in Welch, officials told the community 337 people would be employed and 1,152 inmates would be housed, creating a staff-to-inmate ratio of 1 to 3.8.
“We currently house 1,658 inmates, which is well above what the agency stated would be housed there. The FCI population is approximately 30 percent more than the Institution was designed to house.”
According to Yates, 162 positions are designated for correctional officers, but only 136 are currently employed. After June 16, that number will drop to 128 due to staff promotions and resignations.
“We cannot safely and/or cost-effectively operate this institution with the critically low number of staff.”
After multiple unsuccessful attempts to reach Federal Bureau of Prisons officials, Yates decided to approach Rahall, D-W.Va., for help.
“The value of money is perceived more important than a human life, which is exactly what is in jeopardy with the management of this Institution.”
He said the institution is on a “hiring freeze,” but with these conditions, he is urging that an exception be made.
“It’s bare bones right now. When someone calls in sick, we’re unsure of how to fill in the post.”
Yates said if they are not allotted more employees soon, mandated overtime may become a reality, causing correctional officers to work 16-hour shifts.
“That could be dangerous in itself. An eight-hour shift is mentally draining for a correctional officer, much less a 16-hour shift.”
He said most correctional officers have an hour drive to work, so technically, the officers would be up and at it for 18 hours.
“They would be mentally and physically exhausted.”
Yates said he hopes some type of agreement can be arranged to allow FCI McDowell to hire some additional officers, and he hopes Rahall will work toward making that a possibility.
Chris Burke, public affairs specialist for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, offered the following comment: “All of our institutions are crowded as we continue to operate within our budget. Systemwide we are operating at 37 percent above rated capacity, while staffing levels at federal prisons are at 90 percent of authorized positions.”
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