a female correctional officer at work

Behind Bars: Long-Term Inmates, Too Few Officers?

A union representing correctional officers in federal prisons says the facilities are understaffed and dangerous. Nationwide, the number of inmates serving life without parole has risen steeply in this decade.

Two reports on July 22 pointed out problems for the nation's penal system. "No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America," written by Research Analyst Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., and Policy Analyst Ryan S. King of Washington, D.C.'s The Sentencing Project, details the explosion in the number of people serving life sentences in this country. There were 140,610 such individuals in 2008, 9.5 percent of the entire U.S. prison population, and 41,095 of them were serving life terms without hope of parole -- 22 percent more in the latter category than five years before. More and more people serving long into their senior years represent health costs the states are having trouble paying, Nellis and King wrote, but their report did not discuss the implications for prison workers.

The AFL-CIO's blog provided a union viewpoint to fill that gap, at least for federal prisons, in an entry about July 21 testimony by Bryan Lowery, president of the American Federation of Government Employees' Council of Prison Locals, and Phil Glover, the council's legislative coordinator, before the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

Lowery and Glover claimed the federal Bureau of Prisons is refusing to use a $545 million increase in its funding to increase staffing as Congress intended. According to the AFL-CIO, the council wants to meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to urge that he order bureau managers to use the money to hire 9,000 additional correctional officers, and Lowery and Glove also are asking for stab-resistant vests for correctional officers.

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