With proposed cuts looming at federal prisons, correctional officers fear the worst is just around the corner.
The Trump Administration has proposed eliminating more than 6,100 unfilled positions at federal prisons across the nation. If the proposed cuts are made, Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Beckley would lose 53 positions.
“It’s a recipe for disaster,” said Dan Reese, a 9-year FCI Beckley employee.
Charles Turner, an FCI Beckley employee for nearly two decades, said he used to feel secure in his job, knowing plenty of staff with the proper training were on duty.
“But they’ve continued to cut, and we’re just bare bones.”
Both Turner and Reese are union executive board members with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Council of Prison Locals (CPL-33) Local 404.
They fear further cuts will be dangerous for not only their safety and the safety of the inmates, but the safety of the community at large.
Local 404 President Kevin Franco, a 22-year employee, said he’s been seeing cuts at the facility for the past decade.
“On a daily basis, we’re dealing with combative, assaultive and violent inmates,” Franco said. “A reduction in staffing increases the inherent hazards of working within the confines of a correctional facility.”
James Spencer, a 21-year employee and union executive board member, said people ask him what his job is like. He tells them to imagine being in a small city surrounded by “the worst of the worst,” from murderers and rapists to drug dealers and child molesters.
“A lot of people making the decisions on the cuts have no idea what it’s like inside,” Spencer said.
Franco agreed. He said the environment in a prison is like a light switch — “It can go from boredom to sheer chaos in the blink of an eye.”
Most of the employees in corrections come from military or law enforcement backgrounds. They understand the demands of the job. But they want to know there are enough staff on duty in case of emergency.
The inmate to staff ratio is already at an unsafe level, they said. Franco said nationally, the ratio is 4.3 inmates to one correctional officer. With the proposed cuts, the ratio would be 5.3 to one locally.
With the anniversary of the death of correctional officer Eric Williams right around the corner, the dangers of the job are on the forefronts of the officers’ minds.
Williams, while working in a housing unit at USP Canaan in Pennsylvania, was stabbed repeatedly with a shank by an inmate.
“Is that what it is going to take once again to show our elected officials and top administrators within the Bureau of Prisons that cutting staff only creates more of a dangerous environment in the correctional setting?” Franco asked.
Of the four men at the table, two of them have been assaulted by an inmate during their career.
FCI Beckley currently has 20 correctional officer vacancies. Franco said since 2017, not a single new correctional officer has been hired.
Roughly 1,600 inmates are housed at the medium-security main facility, and roughly 150 are housed at the minimum-security camp.
Some of the 53 positions slated for the chopping block at FCI Beckley would be correctional officer positions, but other departments within the prison would be affected as well.
“Our goal in the Bureau of Prisons, when an inmate comes to us, we want to try to get them a trade or a GED to try to stop them from reoffending,” Franco said. “Each time someone reoffends, it’s a tremendous loss of taxpayer money.”
He said inmates cannot properly be rehabilitated without adequate staff.
They also noted the influx of synthetic drugs into federal prisons across the nation, largely from inmate mail. With less staff oversight, they say the problem is only going to get worse.
Franco is anticipating a decision on the cuts this month. He and the officers are urging elected officials to come to the facility to see first-hand what a day on the job is like.
They’re also urging locals to show their support and contact lawmakers to let them know how important adequate staffing is for officer safety and the safety of the community.
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