The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

July 8, 2008

Prison workers say they're at risk

Staff, equipment needs not being addressed, they contend

LEWISBURG -- Officials with the union representing federal corrections officers say cost-cutting is putting workers at U.S. penitentiaries, including those in Allenwood and Lewisburg, at risk.

Tony Liesenfeld, secretary/treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 148 at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, said for the past four years union leaders have been lobbying lawmakers and administrators to stem the staff reductions.

Liesenfeld, who has worked as a corrections officer at the Lewisburg penitentiary for nine years, said now he is in a position where he no longer feels safe.

"It all goes to funding," he said Monday. "Without funding, we can't get the staff."

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has proposed $143 million in possible spending cuts, including not replacing vehicles and equipment, eliminating overtime, reducing corrections officer training and a possible cut in officer staff positions.

As of Monday morning, the penitentiary was still on lockdown following a July 2 brawl involving five or six inmates, he said.

Liesenfeld pointed to the killing last month of a corrections officers at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atwater, Calif., as evidence of the increased danger facing staff in the federal prisons.

Officer Jose Rivera was stabbed to death by two inmates with homemade knives during a routine lockup.

"Atwater is one institution," he said, "but it's indicative of institutions across the United States, especially penitentiaries and medium (risk facilities). ... We are all surprised it hasn't happened before now."

Allenwood problems

Scott Mathna, president of the Local 307 at the Allenwood Federal Penitentiary, e-mailed The Daily Item, stating he and his co-workers have addressed concerns about the funding issues over the past seven years to prison administrators and federal lawmakers.

He added that safety equipment is needed -- including items such as stab-resistant vests, batons and pepper spray.

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