President Trump initiated a hiring freeze and applied federal staff cuts that have appeared to be counterproductive to correction officers, staffers and prisoners.
Since January 2017, when the hiring freeze came into effect, there have been 6,000 positions cut nationwide, according to a VICE News article. The current inmate-to-correctional officer ratio has nearly doubled from 4.4 to 1 in 2015 to 8.3 to 1 as of today.
To help deal with the loss of staff, prisons are using augmentation. Augmentation is utilizing education, kitchen and medical staff to cover critical guard positions. Prior to the freeze, this method was only used in emergencies or training sessions. However, due to the cuts it has become a norm.
For instance, Paula Chavez teaches GED and parenting courses at a federal prison in Big Spring, Texas. She is no longer doing as much teaching since the prison staff has been gradually decreasing.
Now Chavez, instead of performing her classroom duties, is monitoring housing units alone with 300 inmates to oversee.
“64% of California’s jail population is awaiting trial or sentencing as of December 2016.” Most remain in pretrial custody because they cannot afford bail. Jail Profile Survey, http://www.bscc.ca.gov/
“You’re increasing the hazard of the position when you take someone who doesn’t know what the keys go to,” Chavez said. “I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve felt the fear of what’s going to come, like there is today. If this doesn’t stop, someone is going to get killed. It’s going to happen.”
The impact of moving staffers such as teachers to guard positions has affected the prisoners’ education as well. The percentage of prisoners who have earned their GEDs has dropped from 40 percent in 2016 to 17 percent in 2017, according to VICE News.
“With these cuts, we’re going back to the old Bureau of Prisons that warehoused human beings,” said Shane Fausey, a lock and security specialist at a federal prison in Allenwood, Pa., who has been with the bureau for 25 years.
Many correction officers who voted for Trump thought his law-and-order approach would provide an increase in investment for the federal prison system, but they feel that promise has fallen short.
President Trump and members of his administration have outlined prison reform as a top priority. He even mentioned this in his first state of the union address, yet the hiring freeze does not appear to benefit staffers, correction officers or prisoners in the federal prison system.