TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Understaffing at federal prisons in Tallahassee and across the nation is leading to increasingly unsafe working conditions, which is why some employees from the Federal Correctional Institution, or FCI, took their concerns to Senator Marco Rubio's office.
There are more cuts planned for federal prisons in the fiscal year 2020 budget cuts to both staff and retirement benefits.
Ray Coleman, a prison employee and local union leader, said there have been two recent violent assaults at FCI - one on a corrections officer and one on an inmate. He said those could have been avoided if there was enough staff.
"I don't want it to get to a point where we have to have someone die because we can't get the attention we need when it comes to staffing our prisons," said Coleman.
Coleman and some of his co-workers gathered at the Northeast Branch Library on Tuesday to talk to Senator Rubio about their concerns. Rubio wasn't there, but a representative from his office was. Coleman said he is trying to be pro-active.
"We are about 30 positions short. Those positions are detrimental to the work we do day in and day out as law enforcement officers," said Coleman. "And it's really taken a toll on not just the safety of the officers but the safety of the inmate population as well."
They got to speak with a representative Tuesday. Coleman said they are going to follow up the meeting with a trip to the senator's office soon.
"I want them to realize that we're not expendable. You can't just put us on a table and use us as a bargaining chip. We have lives, we have families," said Yamira Richardson, Senior Correctional Officer at FCI.
Coleman said understaffing is also leading to PREA concerns.
PREA, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, is the first U.S. federal law intended to deter the sexual assault of prisoners, but without enough staff it's hard to monitor the inmates and enforce it.
Senator Rubio's office said:
"Senator Rubio is on the Senate Appropriations Community and he takes his role in advocating for Florida's priorities very seriously. He has successfully secured critical funding for the state of Florida and will continue to make that a top priority again this year."