A battle over how to run the booming federal prison system intensified yesterday as U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, guard-union leaders, and lawmakers toured the ultra-high-security Supermax facility in Colorado and held an unofficial summit, the Denver Post reports. Gonzales emerged two hours later and pronounced Supermax up to par, lauding recent efforts to make sure mail and phone calls from terrorist prisoners are monitored.
Guard-union leaders warned that thin staffing has put prisons on the brink of disastrous riots as the federal inmate population approaches 200,000. Supermax union president Barbara Batulis said terrorists housed there still are able to communicate with followers in Spain and Iraq. Union leaders have begun mobilizing a lobbying blitz to demand $500 million from Congress to hire more guards nationwide, said John Gage of the American Federation of Government Employees. New surveillance technology at Supermax and other prisons ignores the core issue of inadequate staffing, he said. “Those cameras will not replace correctional officers. And electric fences? We’re not talking about escapes here. We’re talking about safety within the walls.”