For immediate release from American Federation of Government Employees, Council of Prisons Locals-33, Local 1242:
A concerned Union moving forward with major complaint. They thought the United States Government and the Department of Justice would always do everything in it’s power to ensure the safety and secure working conditions of its correctional workers. Correctional workers, who daily put their lives on the line to protect society from those convicted of crimes against the United States. The construction of the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, (USP Atwater), was completed in 2001 and expected to be the safest penitentiary built to date. It was to be the "flagship" for the new design which was built with security in mind. Until April 2007, it had been a great success, USP Atwater has been a boost to the local community and surrounding areas, hiring locally and helping to drive the economy in a positive direction. Many local law enforcement agencies and Community Leaders have praised the Penitentiary and it’s professionalism.
According to the Bureau of Prisons Key Indicators, USP Atwater, California, had 50%, less staff and inmate assaults than any other US Penitentiary in history prior to April 2007. The staff at USP Atwater has accomplished this task with approximately only 77% of their expected work force. This has been accomplished through diligence on the part of the staff and the unique infrastructure of the institution. Previously, USP Atwater housed approximately 1400 inmates, who were housed on separate sides of the institution, therefore, accommodating restricted movement. In other words, half or less than half would move from place to place at one time. Thus allowing containment in the event of a situation. All Penitentiaries are very dangerous and extremely volatile prisons, a killing or serious assault can happen within the blink of an eye. Containment of a small situation can prevent death, so training of staff and security procedures are crucial. This is why USP Atwater had been such a success and ran efficiently for approximately five years this way.
In April 2007, USP Atwater was forced to "open" the compound, since it was not like all of the other penitentiaries. As expected, an escalated rise in violence occurred causing lock-downs from assaults on staff and serious inmate assaults. Compounded by a sharp reduction in staff available to respond as directed by the "Mission Critical Roster."
The next series of events has led USP Atwater into very dangerous times. The segregation population has exploded thus causing overpopulation. In order to reduce lock-downs or increase in the segregation population, the agency has created a very hostile and explosive atmosphere for correctional workers. Inmates are allowed to remain in the general population for various infractions of prison rules. Violations of rules such as insolence and threatening staff to very serious charges of carrying homemade prison weapons still allow the inmates to roam freely . Thus completely removing any authority or control they can exercise over the inmate population. Female correctional workers are subject to inmates masturbating and exposing themselves only to have the inmate do the same thing the next day or even worse, being returned to the same housing unit within the same shift. This has created an environment that discourages the female workers from even writing incident reports for the fact that nothing can really be done.
Correctional officers have been subjected to numerous attacks, but the agency has refused to lock the prison down under the premise of "not punishing all the inmates for one’s actions," but creates a more aggressive population for less fear of reprisal. On the other side of the coin, when a manager was assaulted the institution was placed on lock-down status on two separate occasions. The agency claims that all the staff assaults were "isolated" incidents. The term "isolated" is used by the agency to minimize the violent behavior amongst inmates and is a term that is rendered outside the scope of policy to justify Agency action. No incident in a prison can be "isolated." There is always more than one participant and it effects the environment as a whole. Whether it be violence among inmates or against staff all those present are affected by negating any one’s actions or group’s behavior, it sends a clear message to other inmates that this type of action is "okay." Although touting family first, they fail to recognize that all assaulted staff members’ families are affected. The most recent staff assault resulted in a correctional worker receiving a broken jaw. The inmate population was off of lock-down and enjoying their regular programming and Monday night football before the worker was out of surgery.
What can be done to make USP Atwater safe? Return the compound to the safer operation that it used successfully for five years. Remove those responsible for allowing correctional workers to face this unwarranted treatment. Last, the Bureau of Prisons must realize that their old methods do not work and rethink the logic of why all the penitentiaries have similar atmospheres. The old adage, "it’s like that everywhere else," is a cop-out for not facing the real problem.