Shutdown Called ‘Absolute Disaster’ for Federal Prisons

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During the ongoing partial government shutdown, prison guards are working without pay. The federal Bureau of Prisons has furloughed up to half of its 36,000-person staff, including many who provide therapeutic programs and other services considered not “essential,” reports The Marshall Project. The agency is asking its remaining employees to focus on maintaining security even if that’s not their primary job. This could remain the state of affairs until the next pay cycle in late January or for months, as President Trump considers declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress in the funding dispute. “It’s an absolute disaster,” said John Kostelnik of the American Federation of Government Employees chapter in Victorville, Ca., home to a large concentrations of prison guards. “I have staff that are resorting to getting second employment—like Uber driving.”

Federal corrections officers had been affected by administration immigration policies: Victorville took in 1,000 immigrant detainees in June. The shutdown has other consequences. Some inmate visits with families have been canceled. Terminally ill inmates awaiting “compassionate release” to die at home with their families must wait longer because their applications are going unread. A prison stopped ordering food and toiletries for prisoners to purchase. “They’re out of most of everything,” said inmate Seth Piccolo at the Petersburg, Va., prison. A more urgent problem, said Robert Hood, former warden of the federal supermax penitentiary in Florence, Co., is the possibility of mental-health staff being furloughed for a long period. When a federal prison in Marianna, Fl., was damaged by Hurricane Michael in October,  hundreds of inmates were relocated to Yazoo City, Ms., 400 miles away. Corrections officers must commute there, a seven-hour drive, for two-week stints. They are getting no reimbursement for gas, meals and laundry, expenses that can run hundreds of dollars per trip, the New York Times reports.

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