Understaffed federal prisons causes potential danger

ESTILL, SC (WTOC) - The Department of Justice announced a decrease of 6,132 positions for federal prisons nationwide due to budget cuts.

The department says they will only be eliminating vacant positions, and current employees should not fear for their job security. However, prison guards say they it's their security, period, that they fear.

The Department of Justice claims federal prison inmates have decreased over the years, therefore provoking a cut in the budget for staffing. However, this did not take into account the recent hiring freeze. While employees quit, retired, or left for whatever reason, no positions were filled.

Louis Davis is the President of the American Federation of Governing Employees Local 3976. His father was the first African American prison warden in the state of Georgia. Davis currently works at the federal prison in Estill, SC, and said because of the hiring freeze, "We haven't hired anybody in over a year."

Davis said correction officer cuts could unleash your worst nightmare from federal prisons, including murderers, rapists, and cons. Understaffing in any workplace can be detrimental, but in a prison, it can be deadly.

"We protect America from some of the worst criminals in the world," said Davis. "Our understaffing can cost you your life."

While these prison guards feel like their lives are at stake, just a few miles down the road, businesses, like Dr. Tire, are also worried about inmates getting loose.

"To know that they could get out, come in, terrorize anybody they wanted to."

Another worker in the room, Meagan Bostick, said, "Probably trying to steal whatever because they don't have money or anything on them, so they would be after whoever they could find," Thomas said.

What WTOC found in this decision-making is interesting. After digging through the Bureau of Prisons 2018-2019 budget report, their committee strongly recommends additional staffing. They expose the inmate to correctional officer ratio and admit it is unsafe for both the inmates and the staff. It goes on to recommend an immediate correction.

WTOC reached out to the Bureau of Prisons to see if it followed this counsel. It's response was:

"We are currently eliminating several thousand vacant authorized positions.  These positions have been identified by the Department of Justice and Congress to be eliminated as part of an effort to "rightsize" the BOP authorized staffing levels in light of the significant decrease in the inmate population we experienced over the last 4 years. 

The elimination of these positions will not result in any staff members being displaced or any Reduction in Force, and the BOP does not expect this to impact institutional operations or its overall ability to maintain a safe environment for inmates and staff.   Likewise, we believe that reducing authorized positions will not have a negative impact on public safety."

This also doesn't sit well with congressmen across the country. Representatives from Ohio, Florida, and more all wrote letters to President Trump for reconsideration. Georgia Congressman Buddy Carter says safety should always be a priority.

"Any prison guard who feels like they might be in danger, I strongly encourage them to get in touch with our office. Let us look at the particular situation. We'll bring it to the attention of the Department of Justice and it will be addressed."

The Bureau of Prisons said the FY2018 budget has not yet been enacted. To the extent, the FY2018 budget calls for the elimination of additional positions, the BOP will work with DOJ to effect such changes.

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