HAZELTON, W.Va., Nov. 16, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Today, American Federation of Government Employees Local 420 held a daylong protest alongside Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia, concerned citizens, and members of the community to raise awareness around the dangerously low staffing levels at their facility and federal prisons nationwide.

AFGE logo. (PRNewsFoto/American Federation of Government Employees)

Federal Correctional Complex Hazelton, which has been in the news recently due to the murder of a high-profile inmate, has faced severe understaffing the last few years, endangering workers and inmates inside the prison, and exposing the surrounding community to dangers. 

“It’s morally reprehensible that this administration touts its ‘law and order’ stance, yet the leadership has turned its back on the 36,000 women and men who safeguard our prisons,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “The Bureau of Prisons was already short-handed, resorting to ‘augmenting,’ which is when the prisons use staff like secretaries, teachers, accountants, and food service workers as Correctional Officers and critical responders to violent incidents. And instead of addressing that critical issue, the administration decided earlier this year to cut 6,000 more positions.”

Two years ago, at FCC Hazelton, the facility had 880 authorized positions – which included a bump in hiring for second officers in high-security housing units. But today, after the administration cut 74 positions from the facility in March, FCC Hazelton is down to 798 authorized positions, with only 721 filled. There are more than 42 vacant positions for Correctional Officers, and the medical team is not even staffed at 60 percent.

“Our officers risk their lives every single day they walk through the prison gates,” said AFGE Local 420 President Richard Heldreth. “We are constantly facing life-threating situations where we don’t have enough officers to patrol the prison, and as a result we’ve seen a massive uptick in contraband like weapons and drugs as well as an increase in attacks on inmates and officers. Any death that occurs here is a travesty, and unfortunately, the three we’ve seen this year could have been prevented if the administration had hired the officers we so desperately need.”

At today’s rally, AFGE was joined by Rep. McKinley. He spoke to the BOP employees and union members present about his shared concerns over the staffing issue, and said he’d fight on behalf of his constituents to ensure workers at FCC Hazelton could work in a safer environment.

Members of AFGE Local 506 representing workers at Federal Correctional Complex Coleman traveled from Florida to join Local 420 in solidarity today as well.

“Understaffing in the Bureau of Prisons is a nationwide epidemic,” said AFGE Local 506 President Jose Rojas. “We are all part of this nationwide effort to get the administration and Congress to address this problem immediately. Our sisters and brothers who work in these federal prisons deserve nothing less.”

“Thank you to everyone that came out in support of our officers today,” said AFGE District 4 National Vice President Dan Doyle. “Our members have dedicated their lives to safeguarding some of the most dangerous prisons and prisoners in our country. They deserve to be supported by the administration and Congress, and until the staffing shortage is addressed, lives are in peril. We hope that today’s protest raised awareness of the pressing issue facing FCC Hazelton – and all federal prisons – and some action can be taken soon before more lives are lost.”

 

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.

For the latest AFGE news and information, visit the AFGE Media Center. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

 

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SOURCE American Federation of Government Employees