Inside Florence Supermax: Losing More, Getting Less

    Are correctional workers getting burned out at the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado?

    According to correctional officers (COs) at the federal prison, the facility is losing more correctional staff than it’s gaining, and new and old recruits are transferring out of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to other government agencies because of frustration with staffing levels and the work demand at ADX. Prison managers are also encouraging new COs to allegedly cut corners in an effort to be more efficient, a fact veterans say can lead to trouble.Although the hiring process is elaborate, including background checks, credit checks, and multiple interviews, correctional workers are leaving ADX faster than they are arriving, whether it be to other agencies or by transferring to neighboring institutions like the Florence United States Penitentiary (USP) facility or the medium security Federal Correctional Institution (FCI).

    “We’ve had new kids that joined, and within six months they’re quitting because they’ve been basically run into the ground,” says a veteran CO who has worked at ADX for a number of years and wished to remain anonymous when speaking to Colorado Confidential. “

    According to the CO, it is uncommon to see such high turnover at ADX, even though the job of a correctional worker can be predictably stressful and difficult. “A lot of people think that at the ADX all we do is sit on our backsides and not do anything, but we have individuals come from the USP and FCI to work over there for a short period of time and they leave and say ‘We ain’t never coming back. You guys work too hard,'” says the employee.

    In March 2005, the BOP implemented a directive called “mission critical,” where all agency institutions were ordered to come up with staffing roasters that listed the bare-minimum needed to run each prison safely. In April and May of the same year, two inmates were reportedly murdered by other inmates, after ADX had gone more than a decade without a death.

    After going for months with short staffing levels that workers say lead to increased tension and an unsafe environment, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents COs at ADX, underwent arbitration with the BOP over the issue in August 2006. The union claimed that the BOP had violated conditions in their master agreement contract by not consulting the union about the staffing cutbacks, and the arbitrator ruled in their favor, although it was also found impossible to force the BOP to fix the situation.

    Now employees and union officials say the situation is the worse they’ve ever seen it, and want the BOP to not add any new staff positions, but to fulfill the positions that the BOP said were critical for the prison to function safely under the directive.

    “After a while of doing that everyday you’re going to get burned out, you’re going to get sick, you’re going to get tired. What are we supposed to do?” asks AFGE Local 1302 president Barbara Batulis, who said that ADX was losing more COs than it was hiring. “People are still going to work injured. They’re going to work regardless because they don’t want to lose their job. They don’t want to be in trouble so they go and do their job.”

    “It’s hard keeping kids there now, because they don’t wanna be there and because they’re getting worked to death,” says the anonymous CO, who adds that a willingness to please higher ups has lead to new recruits cutting corners. ” They want the Lieutenant to be happy, because if the Lieutenant ‘s happy then he gives you a good evaluation. Us old timers, we could care less about our evaluations.”

    COs are offered a starting annual salary of approximately $34,000 according to union officials, Workers are also evaluated every quarter.

    The veteran correctional worker says the air marshals and border patrol are popular agencies that COs transfer to once they’ve had enough of ADX, but remembers to note that ADX isn’t the only facility functioning under “mission critical.”

    “The only reason why we’re such a big part of the news is because we’re fighting it and the other groups are waiting to see what’s happening with us to see how far we’re going to fight for it or whether we get flushed down the drain, or whether we give up hope,” says the CO.

    Union officials also allege that while the correctional staff is waning, the BOP has made new management positions in the past six months, including a “social research analyst” hired out of New York.

    The BOP did not return a request for comment.

    Also see:
    Inside Florence Supermax: Locked Doors, Locked Mouths
    Inside Florence Supermax: Priorities And Contaminated Air

    Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at