WASHINGTON -- With its killers, bank robbers and corrupt politicians, a federal prison might be a more interesting site than your average government workplace.
Less safe, too.
A recent Government Accountability Office report on the Bureau of Prisons says inmate overcrowding undermines the safety of the agency's staff, as well as that of the inmates.
"BOP officials reported increased use of double and triple bunking, waiting lists for education and drug treatment programs, limited meaningful work opportunities, and increased inmate-to-staff ratios," the September report says. "These factors, taken together, contribute to increased inmate misconduct, which negatively affects the safety and security of inmates and staff."
The prison facilities are crowded because the inmate population is growing faster than the bureau's capacity. As the prison population grew 9.5 percent from 2006 through 2011, the agency's capacity, increasing at 7 percent, didn't keep up. Even with new facilities, the prison population grew from 136 percent of capacity to 139 percent, according to the GAO.
"Nearly all BOP facilities had fewer correctional staff on board than needed, with a BOP-wide staffing shortage in excess of 3,200," the GAO said, citing a 2010 Justice Department study.
While crowding has increased, the inmate-to-staff ratio has gone down. Fewer officers is not a strategy for success. The consequences can be real and bloody.
"Serious correctional worker understaffing and prison inmate overcrowding is causing a significant increase in dangerous inmate-on-worker assaults," Dale Deshotel, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals, told the House Judiciary Committee in December.
In his written statement, Deshotel said "illustrations of this painful reality include: (1) the savage murder of Correctional Officer Jose Rivera on June 20, 2008, by two prison inmates at the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, CA.; (2) the brutal stabbing of a correctional officer on April 23, 2009, by a prison inmate at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, IN.; (3) the brutal stabbing of a correctional officer on November 1, 2009, by a prison inmate at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA; and (4) the more than 350 vicious inmate-on-staff assaults that have occurred at various BOP institutions since the murder of Correctional Officer Rivera."
In fiscal 2010, there were almost 1,700 assaults on bureau staff, according to an April 2011 GAO report.
The bureau did not respond to requests for comment on the GAO report. In an Oct. 2 letter to Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., Attorney General Eric Holder said that "for safety purposes, BOP critically needs high security prison capacity."