“Lock them up and throw away the key!” is a constant refrain heard from law-and-order types — as they sit at home in their comfortable easy chairs expecting someone else to do the heavy lifting of guarding our nation’s prisoners. What most people don’t know (and many probably don’t really care) is that a recent study in California showed that the suicide rate among prison guards is four times higher than the general population of that state. Four times. And the suicides are primarily due to job-related stress.
But prisons are places the average citizen never get to glimpse inside of, for a couple of reasons: One is that penal authorities are expert at keeping out prying eyes, and the other is because, let’s face it, the average citizen really doesn’t care to know what’s going on the other side of those concrete walls and barbed-wired fences.
However, the high-profile death of the infamous sociopathic gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, who had just been moved to Federal Correctional Institution Hazelton, in Bruceton Mills, WV, offered the world a rare look inside, and what was seen wasn’t pretty. Three men have died at the institution over the last six months, and for a federal prison facility that’s an astonishingly high number — or at least it used to be, but not anymore. Predator prisoners have become increasingly brazen.
Back in May, Rich Heldreth, the president of the union which represents more than 800 employees at the prison said, “Just since Jan. 1, 2018, there have been over 60 documented violent incidents. It has become an everyday occurrence. For example, there have been at least 11 weapons confiscated at the facility in the last two days that I have seen documentation of.”
A big part of the reason Bulger and two other prisoners have recently died in federal custody is because of understaffing due to budget cuts imposed by the Trump administration. Like virtually all other bad shit that happens in the country, Trump has had a hand in it.
According to the comprehensive and respected website Government Executive, “The Trump Administration is facing bipartisan pushback as it proceeds with cuts to the federal prison system, despite Congress recently awarding the agency that oversees the system a funding boost and instructing it to increase hiring.”
Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) met with Bureau of Prisons (BOP) director Mark Inch earlier this year and issued a statement saying the agency’s staffing levels were inadequate and creating “dangerous conditions for our corrections officers and our communities.” He had previously penned a letter with dozens of bipartisan cosigners imploring the Justice Department not to move forward with additional cuts the Trump Administration is calling for.
The BOP already has 6,000 vacant positions, as well as additional vacancies that have arisen during an extended hiring freeze at the agency. The bureau has increasingly depended on a process known as “augmentation,” in which non-correction officers are reassigned from their normal work into guard duties.
“We’ve seen too many instances of dangerous conditions caused by shortages leading to violence against officers and other inmates,” stated McKinley. “When our federal prisons have to resort to using nurses or cooks to fulfill the duties of correctional officers, the solution isn’t to cut positions. You need to increase your staffing levels.”
“Today’s reported death at Hazelton, while concerning, is unsurprising,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “Federal prisons across the country are suffering from severe understaffing, and the situation is perhaps no more dire than at Hazelton.”
But there’s a method to Trump’s madness. The Justice Department (which controls the BOP) is forcing the cuts in an effort to shift more resources and prisoners to private contract facilities. In February of 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance that reversed an Obama Administration policy to phase out the use of private prisons. The assistant director of the bureau’s Correctional Programs Division, Frank Lara, issued a memo titled “Increasing Population Levels in Private Contract Facilities,” which tasked facility leaders with identifying inmates to transfer to private contract prisons.
So, a diabolical scheme is being embarked upon to turn federal prisons into snake pits, institutions that put the lives of guards — as well as the prisoners — at risk so that administration officials can one day declare they are not up to the task of operating safe and secure facilities. And when that happens of course the solution will be to shift the prisoners to non-union privately run contract institutions owned by corporations that are always big donors to the Republican Party.
Welcome to Trump’s New American Nightmare.
From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.