Federal Diary: Crowded Prisons Endanger Workers, Union Says

By Joe Davidson
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The list of offenses reads like a police blotter during a full moon.

June 25, Inez, Ky.: Inmate stabs officer with shank covered with feces.

July 7, Anthony, Tex.: Prisoner places officer in headlock and beats him.

July 13, Hazelton, W.Va.: Inmate throws feces and urine on officer.

Friday, Springfield, Mo.: Inmate strikes Bureau of Prisons officer in the head after inmate was told to pull up his pants.

The stomach-turning catalogue of violence against federal prison employees, provided by the American Federation of Government Employees, is long, serious and apparently unending. The assaults are sometimes fatal.

In June 2008, Jose Rivera became the first Federal Bureau of Prisons officer killed in the line of duty in 11 years when he was stabbed by inmates at a penitentiary in Atwater, Calif. Less than a year later, on April 23, another correctional officer, whose name the bureau would not release, was stabbed in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

"BOP prisons have become increasingly dangerous places to work, primarily because of serious correctional officer understaffing and prison inmate overcrowding problems," Phil Glover, a union official, told a congressional panel Tuesday.

The inmate-to-staff ratio is more than one-third greater than it was in 1997, federal figures show.

"Systemwide, the BOP was operating at 37 percent over its total rated capacity" as of July 2, the bureau's director, Harley G. Lappin, told the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security. But high-security facilities, where the most violent offenders are kept, are 50 percent over capacity.

Medium-security pens are almost as crowded. In about 20 percent of those facilities, cells are triple-bunked, "and in many institutions, inmates are being housed in space that was not designed for inmate housing," Lappin said.

As overcrowding increases, so do assaults. Inmate-on-staff violence rose 6 percent and inmate-on-inmate violence jumped 16 percent in fiscal 2006, compared with the previous year, Glover said, citing BOP statistics. In addition to being the legislative coordinator for the union's Council of Prison Locals, he is a correctional officer in Loretto, Pa.

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