As the Trump administration has curtailed hiring at federal prisons in its quest to reduce the size of the government, some lockups are so pressed for guards that they regularly compel teachers, nurses, secretaries and other support staff to step in. The shortage of correctional officers has grown chronic under President Trump, and the practice of drawing upon other workers has become routine. Many prisons have been operating in a perpetual state of staffing turmoil, leaving some workers feeling ill-equipped and unsafe on the job, the New York Times reports. Dozens of workers from prisons across the U.S. said inmates had become more brazen with staff members and more violent with one another. Workers blame the problems on their depleted numbers and the need to push inexperienced staff members into front-line correctional roles, changes not lost on the prison population. “A big fear people have is, if I get assaulted, who is going to come help me?” said Serene Gregg, an employees’ union official at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. Assaults on prison staff rose more than eight percent last year from the previous year.
A growing amount of contraband is getting past depleted prison staffs. At a prison in Big Spring, Tx., people have walked up to the double security fence in broad daylight, with no guard in sight, and tossed drugs, cellphones or other items to inmates. Prison workers fret most about cellphones, which are banned because they allow inmates to attempt crimes. Cellphones can fetch as much as $1,500 inside prison. This year, prison workers have recovered over 200 cellphones in secure areas of Big Spring. Last year, they found 69; in 2016, only one. “Everyone heard about that first cellphone,” said Curtis Lloyd, a counselor at the prison. “Now it’s like it’s raining cellphones.”