Feb 25, 2013 8:51 PM by Matt Stafford

SEQUESTRATION: Cuts loom, prison workers concerned about safety

The March 1st deadline is approaching quickly. If Congress doesn't act, sequestration goes into effect; it's a series of budget slashing and tax increases. Federal agencies across the board are watching closely, and worried about their budgets.

"We've been wondering, how are they going to cut the staff lower than what it's already been cut to?" asks Mike Schnobrich; president of the American Federation of Government Employees local chapter and an employee at the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence.

Schnobrich represents just over 400 federal employees; many of them work at the Correctional Complex in Florence.

"We're working on the razor edge right now on staffing to maintain these secure facilities," says Schnobrich. So talk of possible further cuts is upsetting.

"It's going to create a situation that we're not exactly sure how it's going to turn out; it's going to be much more dangerous," says Schnobrich. "The inmate population here doesn't go home for the weekend, doesn't go home for a couple of days of furlough."

The Justice Department has already asked Congress to find a compromise. In a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Holder lays out large issues that sequestration will cause agencies in his department; the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, US Marshals Service, US Attorneys, Civil Division, Executive Office for Immigration Review, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

For the Bureau of Prisons, Holder says sequestration would cut $338 billion from that budget. He says the agency would face the furlough of 36,700 employees nationwide for an average of 12 days. Holder says this equates to about a 5 percent staff reduction, adding that the sequester would endanger the safety of staff and more than 218,000 inmates.

Offering solutions, Schnobrich suggests federal decision makers work with the employees. He says, locally, they found a way they could save $2.5 million.

However, it might be too late. The sequestration deadline is Friday.

Schnobrich thinks the cuts will happen, but he's hoping they won't.

"I think it's going to be a very difficult summer and early spring," says Schnobrich.

News 5 contacted the Department of Justice and they sent us a statement:

"The Justice Department is acutely concerned about staff and inmate safety should sequestration occur. Sequestration would mean $338 million less for the Bureau of Prison's (BOP) budget, but would not reduce the nearly 218,000 inmates in BOP custody. All of BOP's staff would be subject to possible furlough should cuts of the sequestration's magnitude hit BOP. To the extent possible, BOP will schedule the potential furloughs to minimize the disruption within the prison facilities and will always maintain a minimum level of staff for security purposes. Prison operations will be affected, however, and intermittent partial or full lock-downs may be required. BOP will need to curtail inmate programs such as drug treatment and vocational education, which would lead to higher costs to taxpayers and communities in the long run as the lack of such inmate re-entry training makes it less likely that released inmates will be successful at reintegration into society upon their release. While the Department of Justice is considering what steps can be taken to aid BOP, none of the Department's actions can mitigate the severity of every cut faced by BOP."

If Congress cuts a deal, proposed cuts could change. News 5 will continue to follow progress on sequestration; check for updates.



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