Congressional Letter Remarks on Rise in Federal Prison Violence

Increasing violence against correctional workers in the nation’s prisons has some lawmakers worried, according to a congressional letter addressed to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).In February, Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., sent a brief memo to BOP head Harley Lappin commenting on the violence, and ways to assess the problem.

The letter reads in part:

I am concerned about reports of increasing violence in the Federal
Prison System, including recent assaults and homicides at USP Hazelton, USP
Beaumont and FCI Allenwood. Incidents such as these are particularly
troubling given the funding limitations in the Bureau of Prisons in fiscal
year 2008, and the impact such constraints may have on the Bureau’s ability
to respond to violent threats and attacks.

Colorado workers and union officials in the federal prison system (including the Supermax prison in Florence) allege that the BOP manipulates data to hide increasing assaults, as was reported by Colorado Confidential in October:

For Supermax COs, assaults are only officially designated if the employee is forced to leave the facility to seek medical attention under Bureau of Prison (BOP) definitions, says Barbara Batulis, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1302, which represents the correctional workers.

“Unless somebody gets seriously injured that they can’t handle at the institution it’s not assault,”  Batulis says.

When contacted, the BOP provided a document called “Inmate Discipline and Special Housing Units,” which explains two categories of prohibited acts which define assault. There is a “Greatest” category that is generally used for murder or “only when serious physical injury has been attempted or carried out by an inmate,” and then there is a “High” category for when “less serious physical injury or contact has been attempted or carried out by an inmate.”

Mollohan is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which determines funding for thousands of government programs, including the BOP.

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 erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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