Big Spring, TEXAS – Ahead of Wednesday’s hiring fair at Federal Correctional Institute Big Spring, the union representing workers there is calling the dwindling number of correctional officers and support staff a “dire” situation that needs immediate remedying.
“Right now, we are not even at 80 percent in custody staffing at our facility, and it’s posing extreme risks to our officers, staff, inmates, and the surrounding Big Spring community,” said AFGE Local 3809 President Paula Chavez.
“During the longest ever government shutdown our sisters and brothers here were not paid while they were busy risking their lives, and we had more than 5,000 hours of overtime and more than 700 hours of augmentation hours to try and staunch the bleeding,” she added.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has been dealing with staffing shortages since at least 2015. The situation got even worse when the administration decided in January to cut 6,000 positions nationwide – including 25 at FCI Big Spring. For years, the agency has dealt with the staffing shortages of correctional officers by compelling teachers, secretaries, nurses and other support staff to step in and help guard inmates, creating even greater security risks.
“All of our staff are well-trained to do the job they were hired to do, but augmenting clerical workers to deal with violent situations and violent inmates is not a long-term solution,” said Chavez.
In January 2017, FCI Big Spring had 257 authorized positions, with 33 vacancies. By January 2018 the vacancies crept to 50 – a 51 percent increase year-over year. Now, in January 2019, on the heels of the end of one shutdown, and a mere 10 days before the next potential one, there are only 184 workers – 40 less than were employed two years earlier.
“[Today] the agency is holding a hiring fair which is in dire need here,” said Chavez. “The administration and agency must take immediate action to fill the open positions we have here so we don’t see the same increase in violence at FCI Big Spring that has been prevalent across the country since the hiring freeze began four years ago.”