President Trump, the nation's prison guards work for you

On Jan. 20, 2017, the day Donald Trump took an oath of office to become

America’s 45th President, the White House posted on its website the administration’s top priorities, one of which was to support law enforcement so they can do their jobs protecting the American people.

The first two sentences of the statement read: “One of the fundamental rights of every American is to live in a safe community. A Trump Administration will empower our law enforcement officers to do their jobs and keep our streets free of crime and violence.” 

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But just two months into his presidency, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: Dems playing destructive 'con game' with Kavanaugh Several Yale Law classmates who backed Kavanaugh call for misconduct investigation Freedom Caucus calls on Rosenstein to testify or resign MORE has been inconspicuously absent for the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which is the largest law enforcement component in the Department of Justice. His promise to be a 'law and order' candidate has not materialized since becoming President.

 

As the leader of the Republican Party, he has allowed Republicans on Capitol Hill to stab us in the back. His anti-public servant rhetoric has put the lives of our federal law enforcement officers in danger with the presentation of his 'Skinny Budget.'

As Bureau of Prisons correctional officers, our job is to “keep order and reduce crime in our prisons.” Our “prisons” are like no other; they're filled with the worst criminals in the country - with enemies foreign and domestic - known terrorists, gang leaders, narco-drug dealers, and murderers. Out of 190,000 inmates in our custody, 20,000 are part of disruptive and security threat groups. One correctional officer is routinely guarding 130 dangerous inmates alone - and it's even higher based on the security level of some prisons.

When we leave our houses to come to work, we know we may not return home to our families. This was the case for Correctional Officers Jose Rivera and Eric Williams, who were stabbed to death by convicted murderers already serving life sentences.

Lieutenant Osvaldo Albarati was murdered in a drive-by shooting as he drove home because he broke up a cellphone smuggling-ring in the prison. BOP officers are indeed vulnerable both inside and outside the prison walls. Yet we are not similarly situated like other law enforcement officers in the DOJ who have been given a public safety exemption. As a result, we are not allowed to hire enough people to do the work.

As president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals, my job is to advance our constituents' welfare and protect these sworn law enforcement professionals and make sure they have the tools and resources they need to do their jobs.

These officers love what they do. They run in the direction of threats where others would run away from - disturbances and fights. Our LEOs know their jobs make their communities safer, but nobody needs to die trying to make a difference, especially when we can do something about it.

The way I protect our officers is to inform members of Congress the truth about life behind the prison walls – what it’s like guarding 130 dangerous inmates by yourself, what it’s like being surrounded by hundreds of the worst criminals on a compound and having only a radio and handcuffs as protection.

As president, I am able to talk to members of Congress and help them find solutions because the federal government gives me certain hours, known as official time, to work with management in our agency to develop continual modern and progressive work practices for our staff.

With official time, our law enforcement professionals were able to describe the working conditions inside federal prisons to members of Congress, notably Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaPoll: Democrats hold big leads in Pennsylvania Senate, governor races Obama to hit campaign trail in Pa. for gubernatorial, Senate candidates Poll: Pennsylvania Democrats surging with double-digit leads MORE (R-PA), and Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), which led to the enactment of the Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act of 2016. The bill provides correctional workers with pepper spray to protect themselves and is now saving countless lives. 

The same is true for the Thin Blue Line Act or Back the Blue Act, which ensures anyone killing a law enforcement officer in the line of duty pays the ultimate sacrifice. Using official time, law enforcement professionals were also able to describe their working conditions that led to a reintroduction of the Osvaldo Albarati Correctional Officer Self-Protection Act of 2017, which would require the warden of every BOP-operated institution to provide a secure storage area where workers can store their personal firearms carried to and from work.

But emboldened by the President's rhetoric of “draining the swamp,” some Republican House members took it as a sign to come after public servants. An article in the Washington Post illustrated their contempt well.

Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) has recently introduced a bill aimed at killing official time and weakening unions. He cast it as “keeping with President Trump’s promise “to take back control of the People’s government.”

To that we ask, from whom, Mr. President? From the officers like Rivera, an Iraq War veteran who was murdered inside USP Atwater, Williams who was stabbed over 200 times at USP Canaan with multiple prison weapons and had his skull crushed, and Albarati who was shot over 20 times traveling home to his children? From people like me who have spent countless hours trying to find ways to make our workplaces safer? All our fallen officers have paid the ultimate sacrifice doing their jobs protecting the American people. They do not deserve to be short-changed and should be given the tools and resources necessary to fulfill their duties on the front lines in our nation's prisons - just like the soldiers in war.

You know what it’s like to receive a phone call that your child or spouse has been murdered? Ask Eric Williams' parents Don and Jean, Osvaldo Albarati's widow Helen Andujar, or Ramona Casanas, mother of Albarati (who was her only son), or Jose Rivera's mother and sister Terry and Teresa and they can tell you what it feels like. It's an insult characterizing us as "swamp."

Hice’s bill, H.R. 1364, would punish our law enforcement representatives like me for trying to prevent what happened to the three officers from happening to others. Specifically, it would take away our retirement benefits, discouraging people from becoming law enforcement reps and making their workplaces unsafe.

Another two bills H.R. 1259 and H.R. 1461, introduced by Reps. David ‘Phil’ Roe and Jodey Arrington respectively, would further punish representatives in our union and take away federal employees’ rights and workplace protections. Even though these two bills harm public servants at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Congress would likely expand them to other federal agencies.

Let me be clear, if bills like these become law, there is no way this administration can say you support law enforcement because without us protecting our constituents, there can be no order. In fact, more deaths in federal prisoners and staff are inevitable, and that will hurt all Americans.

BOP is understaffed now and has been understaffed for years. Failure to adequately fund our prisons will mean BOP using other BOP staffers like food service foremen, secretaries, and plumbers who would regularly have to perform duties of correctional officers. Let that little fact sink in a bit. A cook, secretary, or plumber having to do the work of a correctional officer because we refuse to fund prisons.

And to create a situation where people don’t want to work for the BOP because they could get killed just by showing up for work will have a serious effect on our recruitment efforts in BOP to retain talented and dedicated public servants in our ranks.

The last paragraph of Trump’s issue statement says, “It is the first duty of government to keep the innocent safe, and President Donald Trump will fight for the safety of every American.” To that I ask, we are doing our jobs, Mr. President, keeping the American people safe, but who is protecting those who protect America? These members of Congress’ new found courage to put a target squarely on public servants is a direct result of your anti-government remarks.

It's disheartening to be targeted by politicians’ attacks on public servants without consequence. They think it’s fashionable to take a shot at our government, but people need to understand what this truly means not only to the men and women who get up every day to serve our communities but to them. Do they feel safer by making our prisons more dangerous?

Eric Young is president of the AFGE Council of Prison Locals, which represents more than 33,000 U.S. Bureau of Prison employees nationwide. This editorial reflects his personal views as a citizen and as president of the AFGE Council of Prison Locals.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.