OXFORD (WKOW) – Prison workers at the Oxford Federal Correctional Institution knew a furlough would be one of the effects a potential Sequester could have. They just didn't anticipate its severity.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) delivered letters to all Bureau of Prison employees on Friday notifying full-time employees will be furloughed 14 days should the Sequestration cuts go into effect.
The U.S. DOJ would require employees to take the unpaid leave within about six months, beginning on April 21.
"The sequestration would cut our funding levels by $338 million," the U.S. DOJ wrote in a memorandum to Bureau of Prisons employees.
Union leaders warn the staffing cuts would only exacerbate existing shortages. Oxford Federal Prison has 25 fewer employees than it did in 2009.
The ideal staff-to-inmate ratio is one guard for every three inmates. Currently, Oxford's ratio is one guard to five inmates. And with the potential furloughs, this could drop to one to seven, according to James Salzwedel, vice president of the union at Oxford Federal Correctional Institution.
And from midnight to 8 a.m. in prison housing units, there is one guard overseeing 112 inmates, according to Salzwedel.
"It's going to drop our levels at the institution to a level that is unsafe. And with an unsafe facility, more incidents are going to occur. Whether that be more inmate assaults where they're assaulting each other or assaulting staff members," Salzwedel said.
On Monday night, an inmate used a homemade weapon to kill a corrections officer at a federal prison in northeastern Pennsylvania.
"The inmates know when there are fewer guards. It gives them a chance to put one over, try and get away with things like having people smuggle drugs in," Dave Dauman, president of the union at Oxford Federal Correctional Institution.
The plan for dealing with the potential furlough is by moving people from other departments such as education or food services to work in security. However, all prison employees have security training, according to Dauman.
Still, Dauman wonders why the price falls on prison employees.
"The big question is why are we taking away from staff and making staff pay the price when we can inconvenience the inmates," Dauman said.
Dauman suggested scaling back prisoner programs such as reducing the number of hot meals for inmates from three to day per day and limiting time they have with visitors.
At press time, the U.S. DOJ had not yet returned calls for comment.
The Sequestration cuts are scheduled to go into effect on March 1.
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