Before Prison Riot: A Warning Of Rising Inmate Violence, Staffing Woes

Less than a month before a riot at a federal penitentiary in Florence over the weekend left two inmates dead, an official with the labor union representing the prison’s correctional workers testified before the U.S. House Commerce, Justice and Science subcommittee regarding safety concerns over a national rise in inmate-on-inmate assaults and the possibility of additional staff layoffs.Congressional documents obtained by Colorado Confidential show that Phil Glover, a legislative coordinator with the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals, testified in Washington, D.C., on April 2 before the committee regarding security troubles in facilities run by the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Glover voiced concern over a rise in inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults in federal prisons, where he said there have been 13 inmate-on-inmate homicides in 2008. In 2007, there were 12 such homicides according to Glover, who blamed the occurrences on a lack of staffing and resources in the bureau.

During the hearing Glover also referred to a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall at the bureau for the current fiscal year, saying, “as it stands now, [the bureau] may still have to look at either furloughs or layoffs of line employees to meet the funding requirements of 2008.”

According to Glover’s testimony, the bureau has filled approximately 87 percent of the 39,383 staff positions that have been authorized by the government, whereas staffing numbers for bureau facilities in the 1990s were around 95 percent.

The union’s legislative coordinator then said that staffing-level percentages at bureau prisons may decrease to as low as 76 percent, or with three-fourths of all authorized positions being filled.

Colorado Confidential reported on similar staffing figures and potential layoffs at the bureau in March, when an internal agency memo stated that the bureau was facing a projected budget shortfall of $289 million in funding and could be forced to cut correctional staff positions to the point “where safety and security of staff and inmates could be in jeopardy.”

The bureau continues to contend that all of its facilities are staffed at safe operating levels.

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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