Critics say adding inmates while cutting correctional officers could lead to dangerous conditions. “It’s a scary situation,” says Eric Young of the union representing guards.
The Trump administration is calling for a 14 percent reduction in federal prison jobs, including 1,850 fewer correctional officers, while projecting a two percent rise in inmates under more aggressive prosecutions of illegal immigrants and drug offenders, the Wall Street Journal reports. More than 80 percent of those 6,132 prison jobs are vacant; the rest of the positions would be eliminated through attrition over fiscal year 2018. The federal prison population had been declining over the past four years. DOJ is seeking $10 million to cover the costs of food, health care, transportation and programs for additional inmates, but that request wouldn’t cover new correctional officers responsible for security. Another $80 million in the budget would allow the federal government to open a maximum-security prison in a facility previously run by Illinois. The anticipated increase in the federal-prison population is the result of more aggressive charging guidelines issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Civil rights groups and the union for prison employees say more inmates and fewer correctional officers could lead to dangerous conditions at some of the 144 federal facilities. “It’s a scary situation,” said Eric Young of the American Federation of Government Employees’ Council of Prison Locals. “People need to understand the situation politicians put us in when they play with our funding.” Sessions has rescinded the Obama administration decision to phase out contracts with for-profit prison companies. About 19 percent of federal inmates are in private facilities. Experts say private prisons are well-positioned to boost their market share because they have more beds available than government-run facilities, which are running 14 percent above capacity. Four U.S. correctional officers have been murdered over the past 20 years. Most recently, an inmate serving a life sentence at a federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania was convicted last week in the 2013 fatal stabbing of correctional officer Eric Williams.