The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 28, 2013

Sequestration will affect safety, local economy

By Wendy Holdren
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — With the impending sequestration on the horizon, local officials with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) are voicing their concerns.

Charlie Yates, president of AFGE at the Federal Correctional Institution at McDowell, said he is trying to get information out to the public about how the sequestration will affect the local economy, as well as the safety of the staff.

“Sequestration is a mandate that all federal employees, specifically Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) employees, take anywhere from 10 to 12 furlough days in an unpaid status. That will take an extra 22 to 35 employees off the staff on a daily basis, leaving less staff to manage the prison population.”

Jill Carver, president of the Local 404 at FCI Beckley, said the sequestration will cut $338 million from the BOP’s current budget.

She said the furloughs will reduce on-site staff by approximately 10 percent and it will endanger the lives of the staff at work.

Yates referenced an incident that occurred Tuesday at the Canaan federal penitentiary in northeastern Pennsylvania when an inmate assaulted and killed correctional officer Eric Williams.

“The sequestration is going to reduce staffing levels and when you reduce staffing levels, it affects the inmate to staff ratio.”

He said a few years back, the ratio was 4.8 inmates to every correctional officer; however, now the rate is 6-to-1, not even taking furloughs into account.

With furloughs in consideration, he estimated the inmate to staff ratio would be approximately 10-to-1.

Carver pulled several statistics about correctional officers, including one alarming statistic that on average, a correctional officer will be assaulted at least twice within a 20-year career.

She also cited that correctional officers have the second highest mortality rate of any occupation, and that a correctional officer’s suicide, divorce and substance abuse rate is much higher than that of the general population.

Yates said there are 252 employees at Welch and Carver said there are over 300 at FCI Beckley.

“Everybody has to take part in the sequestration,” Yates said. “From the highest official, being the warden, down to the lowest correctional officer.”

If a budget decision is not reached by Friday, Yates said the sequestration is set to go into effect April 21 and last until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the BOP would need to implement full or partial lockdowns and significantly reduce inmate reentry and training programs.

“This would leave inmates idle, increasing the likelihood of inmate misconduct, violence and other risks to correctional workers and inmates.”

He also said that limiting or eliminating inmate programs, such as drug treatment and vocational education, would lead to higher costs to taxpayers and communities in the long run as the lack of such inmate re-entry training makes it less likely that released inmates will be successful at reintegration into society upon their release.

In addition to the impact on the safety of the officers, Yates said the economic impact will be huge.

“You’re looking at $1.5 million lost in wages and salaries that we will not be spending out in town. It’s going to be tough for families to pay their mortgages, vehicle payments, utility bills and to put food on their tables.”

He said the impact will affect other federal employees in our area, including IRS, MSHA, National Park Service and USDA workers.

“You’re talking tens of millions of dollars lost in economic revenue.”

Although the plan isn’t set in stone, Yates said he doesn’t foresee Congress coming to an agreement on the budget.

“We’re planning for the worst and hoping for the best.”

Both he and Carver are urging local citizens to call Congressman Nick Rahall,  Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Sen. Joe Manchin to voice their opinions on sequestration.

“This is an outcry for public help. Call officials and let them know how devastating it will be to our community. We already know mining is down. Our mining jobs are being affected, now it’s coming to our federal employees.”

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