The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

October 29, 2009

Carney gets $1B more for federal prisons

LEWISBURG — The U.S. Penitentiary at Lewisburg is far from alone in confronting safety concerns caused by inadequate funding.

A Lewisburg Penitentiary corrections officer on Monday was stabbed by an inmate using a 4-foot-long spear, the 44th incident at the lockup this year.

Employees of the prison system have been concerned about their safety because they say there are not enough guards watching the inmates, said Tony Liesenfeld, secretary/treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 148.

Similar funding-related problems are being seen at federal correctional institutions throughout Central Pennsylvania and across the country.

The issue hits hard in Central and Northeastern Pennsylvania, home to 20 percent of the nation’s federal correctional institutions, said U.S. Rep. Chris Carney, who has successfully petitioned the House Appropriations Committee for more than $1 billion in extra federal corrections funds in the previous and current fiscal years.

Over the past 20 years, the federal prison population has increased at twice the rate of staff levels, Carney said in a letter to key legislators seeking an increase in funding. At the end of 2008, federal prisons were operating at 138 percent their official capacities, Carney said.

Recent numbers show the U.S. Penitentiary at Lewisburg has 1,112 inmates at its main facility, and 520 at its camp. The official inmate capacity for the main penitentiary is 770 and 552 at the camp. Only 88 percent of Lewisburg’s correctional positions are filled — 260 out of a possible 295.

“There may be 88 percent staffing at the facility, but the inmate population is 20 percent over capacity,” said Bill Gillette, northeast regional vice president for the council of prison locals for the American Federation of Government Employees. “They are down a lot.”

Federal facilities in Lewisburg, Allenwood and Minersville, Schuylkill County, are all over capacity and understaffed.

“I just want people to understand that this isn’t so much about an attack or charge against any administrator at the facilities,” Gillette said. “They are doing the best they can under the circumstances and resources they are given. … We have to operate on the budget that is given to us.”

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