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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 7th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 49 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 49

Lompoc correctional officers' union rep opposes budget cuts

By SPENCER COLE

A spokesperson for the union representing federal correctional officers at the Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution added his voice to calls being made by similar union representatives across the country opposing proposed cuts to the Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) 2018 budget.

"This an issue," Justin Bender of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 3048 told the Sun. "They're putting a price on safety and my fellow staff."


“PRICE ON SAFETY”
The Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution is set to lose 62 vacant staffing positions following an announcement from the Bureau of Prisons that it would eliminate 6,000 positions nationally.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS

The BOP announced at the end of January that it was initiating a process to eliminate some 6,000 positions—roughly 14 percent—within the agency nationwide. The news came during a time when many positions have sat vacant for more than a year, which the AFGE said endangers inmates in custody and the correctional officers that oversee them.

Locally, the cuts would mean some 62 currently unfilled staff positions at Lompoc would cease to exist, and staffing for the facility would be listed as at 100 percent capacity.

"President Trump came into office preaching about the need for a safer America, but instead he is putting the lives of federal law enforcement officers and our communities at risk," the AFGE's National President J. David Cox said in a statement. "The men and women who risk their lives guarding our prisons deserve proper staffing levels to ensure they can do their job and make it home safe. This mandate is bad for citizens, it's bad for prison staff, and it's bad for inmates."

Many union leaders say the funding cut is part of larger move to contract more correctional work to private prisons. On Jan. 24, a memo was leaked from the office of Assistant Director of Correction Programs Division Frank Lara. The memo said: "In order to alleviate the overcrowding at Bureau of Prisons' institutions and to maximize the effectiveness of the private contracts, effective the date of this memorandum, please submit eligible inmates for re-designation to the designation and sentence computation center for transfer consideration to private contract facilities."

Bender said he was unsure what positions in Lompoc would be cut, but the move signaled to him and staff that the federal government did not prioritize correctional officers' safety.

"We're dealing with these inmates 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he added. "If you have more staff there, it's like having an insurance policy. If you wreck your car, your insurance is going to cover you. I feel like this extra staff is going to cover me."

Despite the cuts, Bender praised prison staff and said that the recent "walkaways," like the case of Carl Henderson, 47, who was reported missing from the minimum security facility on Jan. 31, were a reflection of limited staffing levels, rather than employee incompetence. He noted that usually one correction officer would be in charge of some 300 inmates.

On Feb. 2, Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) spoke out against the proposed cuts.

"This decision not only cuts many good-paying jobs on the Central Coast, but also irresponsibly puts our corrections officers at risk in an already understaffed facility," Carbajal said in a statement. "It represents a dangerous shift away from supporting our federal law enforcement and public safety officers, in favor of investing in the notoriously problematic and inhumane for-profit prison system." In response to the widespread criticism, the BOP responded in a statement saying the positions identified for cuts were part of an effort to "rightsize" staffing levels due to inmate populations decreasing over the past four years.

"The elimination of these positions will not result in any staff members being displaced or any reduction in force, and the BOP does not expect this to impact institutional operations or its overall ability to maintain a safe environment for inmates and staff," the statement said. "Likewise, we believe that reducing authorized positions will not have a negative impact on public safety." The BOP noted the 2018 budget had yet to be enacted and that it would work with the Department of Justice to "effect such changes" in regards to the budget's calls for eliminating positions. Bender told the Sun that union reps from all the affected prisons planned to meet with Senate and congressional representatives in Washington on Feb. 8 to see what could be done to stop the cuts. "This kind of came out of nowhere," he said.

The BOP announced at the end of January that it was initiating a process to eliminate some 6,000 positions—roughly 14 percent—within the agency nationwide. The news came during a time when many positions have sat vacant for more than a year, which the AFGE said endangers inmates in custody and the correctional officers that oversee them.




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