As a result of Federal budget cuts, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has shifted hundreds of inmates into one of the two buildings that comprise the Metropolitan Detention Center Brooklyn campus, according to union officials with the American Federation of Government Employees who represent the facility’s Correction Officers and other employees.
The concentrating of 95 percent of the facility’s inmates into just one building puts both inmates and the staff at risk, warned Anthony Sanon, president of Local 2005 Council of Prisons. At the same time, a continued shortage of Correction Officers is forcing management to fall back on shifting employees from their normal duties as teachers, medical professionals and counselors to fill Correction Officer assignments.
Overcrowded in West
“They moved all the inmates into the West Building to save costs,” he said in an interview at the facility. “So, what you have now is just 80 to 100 women inmates” being housed in the East building, with 1,700-plus male inmates in the West building. The prison is currently operating near capacity. The East building can accommodate several hundred prisoners.
Mr. Sanon said that as a result of shrinking the area that had to be secured, prison officials were able to eliminate dozens of open Correction Officer positions from the roster. “We have 63 positions since May that were taken away,” he said. “Now, they are making it look like we are 92-percent staffed, but actually we are not.”
The crunch on space in the crowded West building, Mr. Sanon said, meant they had to “hold inmates in places they shouldn’t be held, like in the receiving and discharge areas.”
He warned that with the much higher concentration of male inmates in the West building, gangs were going to hold more sway over their surroundings.
‘They Can Control a Floor’
“You have a lot of gangs in this facility, and by putting these gangs together, it creates a big concern,” he said. “When they have the numbers on a particular floor, a gang can actually control that floor. That’s the problem we are having. It is not uncommon that our people get hurt in here. Correction officers have been slashed on the wrist, on the hand, they have been punched by inmates in here just within this year alone."
He continued, “I am worried about the safety of these officers, but I also am worried about the inmate population that we are sworn to protect. It is a very big risk and a liability.”
The Bureau of Prisons’ augmentation protocol, which permits facility management to raid the education, health and counseling services to fill out a security detail, also contributes to potential inmate “agitation” according to Mr. Sanon.
“There’s a consequence for this,” he said. “Now, the inmates tend to get agitated when they don’t get what’s supposed to be coming to them [educational services etc.] and they become angry,” which leads to “more assaults inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff. This week alone we had five body alarms, which could be “an inmate-on-inmate fight, a medical emergency or an assault on the staff.”
The shortage of Correction Officers and the prison system’s reliance on pulling personnel from other functions to compensate is a national issue.
According to the New York Times, “Dozens of workers from prisons across the country said inmates had become more brazen with staff members and more violent with one another. At a prison in West Virginia, violent incidents increased almost 15 percent in 2017 from the year before…Workers blame the problems on their depleted numbers and the need to push often-inexperienced staff members into front-line correctional roles, changes not lost on the prison population.”
In April the BOP staff shortage and increasing reliance on augmentation came up during the U.S. Senate hearings on the Department of Justice budget. Sen. Joe Manchin complained to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that understaffing at West Virginia’s high-security Hazelton facility had already resulted in 60 serious security incidents, including the murder of an inmate, since the beginning of 2018.
A detailed email query on the union’s concerns and two follow-up phone calls did not elicit a response from the MDC management.
A Troubled Prison
In 2016, WNYC reported that a report from the National Association of Women Judges found conditions at MDC in violation of both the American Bar Association’s standards and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners. “Inmates complain of rotten food, being denied access to sunlight or fresh air, being made to stand for hours on end, and being unable to get appropriate medical care, especially gynecological care,” the radio station reported.
In 2017 several inmates, including former State Sen. Pedro Espada, filed a lawsuit alleging that the food-prep area of the prison was “habitually contaminated by the visible presence and droppings of rats, mice, cockroaches and flies.”
Last year MDC was also rocked by the arrest of two Lieutenants, and a Correction Officer, who were all subsequently convicted of dozens of rape and sexual-assault charges.
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