Federal prison union officials and inmate advocates warn that the combination of chronic understaffing, a new leave policy and the realities of coronavirus quarantines could lead to the first nationwide federal prison lockdown since 1995.
As coronavirus races across the country, staffing challenges are particularly complicated in the nation’s jails and prisons where conditions create a tinderbox for contagion. There is no such thing as teleworking for a correctional officer tasked with guarding inmates.
Union leaders for the Council of Prison Locals worry that existing low staffing levels in federal detention centers and prisons — which have required teachers and other social workers to fill in for correctional officers in the past — will exacerbate the impact of losing staff members to quarantines for coronavirus infections.
The federal prison system, which houses nearly 175,000 inmates, represents only a fraction of the overall prison and jail complex in the United States.