The federal sequestration will affect the Federal Correctional Institute in Ashland.
The deep financial cuts will furlough staffers at the facility but could also lead to the elimination of inmate treatment and training programs. The economic results will ripple though the community, say workers, and is likely to diminish safety and security inside the prison itself.
Rick Brewer, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1286, the labor union that represents the majority of FCI’s 284 employees, says the mandated cuts will force all workers at the facility to begin taking 14 days of leave without pay. Furloughs begin April 21 and will continue through September.
“On each and every day that sequestration remains in effect, as many as 25 to 30 employees will be placed on furlough status every day,” said Brewer. That’s an approximate 10 percent cut in staffing each day, he said.
If the sequestration remains in effect, employees will continue to have 112 hours of furlough for the next decade, said Brewer.
One of the biggest concerns with furloughs is the safety of workers who remain on duty, said Brewer. Before sequestration the inmate-to-staff ratio at FCI was 6.8 inmates to every correctional officer. Once sequestration takes effect that ratio will jump to 12.1 inmate for every officer.
Brewer said officers are concerned the reduction of watchful eyes could embolden prisoners and lead to a rise in attacks.
“It’s a very stressful job. You never know what you are getting into. You don’t know what kind of a day these inmates have had. You always have to be aware of your surroundings,” said Brewer, who has more than 16 years experience in corrections.
National statistics indicate that over a 20-year career, correctional officers will be assaulted at least twice. Officers have the second-highest mortality rate of any occupation, according to AFGE provided statistics, and a 39-percent higher suicide rate than any other occupation and, on average, officers live only 18 months after their retirement.
“When you double the ratio, you have less staff coming in for coverage and that is more inmates you have to watch. Everyone knows these guys aren’t up for being angels,” Brewer said. “Our biggest concern is that we will have 30 less staff members to respond to an emergency at the institution.”
Compounding the problem further, will be the likely reduction in programs the cuts in staffing will cause. Inmates who are normally kept busy working at trades or learning skills will have more idle time “This can lead to undesireable activities and plots to assault staff or escape,” Brewer theorized.
“In addition, when staff is furloughed in the facilities department, that is a day the inmates won’t be working either, which keeps them from paying their fines, child support and other fees,” Brewer said.
The economic effects of the furloughs will be felt by the entire community, according to Brewer.
“You are looking at a million dollars in lost wages and salaries that staff will not be spending in the local community,” he said. The prison has an annual budget of more than $36 million, and an estimated economic impact of $9.2 million. Of that, $6 million was spent in the last fiscal year for upkeep and maintenance.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons referred requests for comment to the Department of Justice, which answered with a letter written by Attorney General Eric Holder.
According to the letter, the sequestration will cut $1.6 billion from the Department of Justice’s current funding levels, that includes $338 million from the BOP’s current budget. An estimated 36,700 staff members will be furloughed and new hiring stopped.
Holder echoed workers sentiment regarding safety for inmates, correction officers and the greater community. Sequestration, he wrote, could also lead to higher costs for taxpayers as cuts in re-entry and training programs lessen the likely hood that an inmate will be reintegrated into society at the end of his or her sentence.
There are more than 218,000 inmates in the federal prison system. Kentucky has five federal prisons.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be
reached at (606) 326-2653 or