Don’t cut our federal prison workforce

ANDREW E. KLINE

South Williamsport

At a time when our federal prisons are understaffed and still overcrowded nationwide, they have proposed eliminating 6,100 vacant positions nationwide and making this the new, “100 percent” staffing number.

They call “right sizing.”

Currently, the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary is at 86 percent staffing.

Next month, it will fall to 84 percent (retirements and transfers).

But by eliminating our current 94 vacant positions, Lewisburg will overnight become “100 percent staffed,” according to “right sizing.”

In a recently leaked memo, the administration plans to cut funding for federal prisons and eliminate roughly 14 perrcent of correctional worker positions nationwide.

Sadly, this decision comes at a time when the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has relied on augmentation to meet staffing needs, instead of hiring new full-time correctional officers.

With less correctional officers in the prisons, the BOP has turned to “augmentation” — a quick-fix scheme that – when there are not enough officers employed or scheduled that day — the cook foremen, secretaries, electricians, teachers, accountants, plumbers, counselors, paramedics, drug treatment specialists or other non-custody employees are “augmented” as officers inside the prison.

This, they say, fill the gaps in corrections officer staffing.

But this also leaves fewer staff able to respond to emergencies in the prison, and fewer to prevent violence and assaults.

It also results in one correctional worker supervising hundreds of dangerous felons – terrorists, gang members and murderers — with no backup officer.

Elected officials grandstand about securing our borders and wanting to make America safer — so why are they cutting the budget for the Bureau of Prisons and putting correctional workers lives at risk at USP Lewisburg and across America?

Many of these federal prisons are in your backyards throughout Central Pennsylvania, where your kids go to school and where many of your friends and families live and work.

Officers are not asking for a pay raise.

They are not asking to pay less for health care.

They are not asking for more vacation time or even better working conditions.

They just want to go home safe each night to their families and to not live with the stress of what tomorrow may bring.

Everyone who works there fully understands the possibility of injury or death, but when these staffing cuts and shortages create unsafe conditions, everyone must act to avoid potential disaster.

We know better than anyone that vacancies and lack of staff force officers — at times — to work alone in one of the most dangerous settings in America: A prison.

We firmly believe that our government needs reform. There are areas that need more oversight and possible reductions or cuts, but federal prisons are certainly not one of these.

These are your friends and neighbors, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.

They are wives, husbands, veterans and – most of all – they are people like you, trying to make a living, raise their kids, pay their bills and make it safely to retirement.

Is that to much to ask?

(Andrew E. Kline is president of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 148, United States Penitentiary-Lewisburg, Lewisburg, Pa.)

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