State's prison guards still working without pay
Unlike thousands of federal workers nationwide, correctional officers at West Virginia's federal penitentiaries were immune to the furloughs caused by the partial government shutdown.
Officers will not be paid for their services until the shutdown ends, however.
So while inmates' lives will continue as normal for the foreseeable future, those charged with keeping prisoners safe and out of trouble could soon be facing hard times.
"We are considered essential employees ... so we have to go to work. But we're not getting paid at this time to go to work," said Jill Carver, local president of the American Federation of Government Employees in Beckley.
Carver is a teacher at the Federal Correctional Institution in Beckley, running GED and parenting classes for inmates, and has worked for the Bureau of Prisons for 20 years. She said staff members are getting worried if the shutdown continues for very long, they won't have enough money to put gas in their cars to get to work.
"You can't come to work on fumes. And if you have the option of putting $50 in your vehicle or $50 to feed your family another week, you're not going to make the choice to not feed your family," Carver said.
Furloughed employees will eventually be paid. Congress voted Oct. 5 to give laid-off workers back pay once the shutdown ends. But Carver said that doesn't help those with immediate financial needs.
"Everyone thinks federal employees make beaucoups of money. Most of us live payday to payday like everyone else does," she said. "I'm hoping it gets resolved. I think we are going to survive this first two weeks, then after that we're going to be in trouble."
Federal prison employees will receive a paycheck next week for hours logged before the partial government shutdown, which began Oct. 1. But Carver said that paycheck likely would be small, because workers will only be compensated for a portion of their usual pay period.
She said most workers aren't expecting to receive anything in their checks, after deductions for benefits and taxes.
The correctional officers' credit union is helping out, offering members short-term, low-interest loans.
But Carver said eventually, working for no pay would wear on employees. And other problems could arise if employees stop showing up for work.
There are more than 2,000 inmates at Beckley, overseen by 363 correctional officers. It's a round-the-clock job -- "Inmates don't go home at night," Carver noted -- and each employee is crucial to the prison's operation.
"If I don't go to work, that means someone else has to carry my load," she said.
There are six federal prison facilities in West Virginia, located in Alderson, Beckley, Glenville, Hazelton, Morgantown and Welch.
The Daily Mail tried to contact representatives at the prison, but was referred each time to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. A recording on the bureau's public affairs phone line said no employees were available because of the government shutdown and resulting furloughs.
The U.S. Department of Justice last month released a contingency plan for the Bureau of Prisons if a shutdown occurred.
"Employees are ... needed to continue inmate custody responsibilities over some 38,700 inmates in contract facilities and process all new designations to federal prisons," the document reads.
Ninety-nine percent of the bureau's employees were exempted from furloughs.
The plan says the bureau's facilities and commissary accounts receive multi-year appropriations and "should have adequate carry over funding to meet expenses during a lapse in appropriations."
Carver said prison staff prepared for the shutdown by stocking up on necessities. Her education department bought extra paper and supplies so they wouldn't run out.
"This is the craziest thing I've ever seen in my life. I'm completely stunned at the behavior of our elected officials," she said.
She said the union is encouraging members to contact their representatives in Congress.
"We're tired of being the pawns."