Union calls for immediate action after violent outbreak in L.A. detention center

<<B>WASHINGTON—A recent outbreak of violence at the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles has led the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and its Council of Prison Locals (CPL) to once again request immediate action from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to correct the dangerous situation of understaffed and underfunded federal prisons. According to reports, a brawl involving 10 inmates broke out May 5 at about 7 p.m. and left four correctional staff injured and in need of hospital treatment. Los Angeles police officers were sent to the scene to maintain order outside the facility, which serves as a holding location for men and women charged with federal crimes.

“This incident indicates a clear need for more staffing,” said Bryan Lowry, president of the CPL, which represents federal correctional employees nationwide in 115 BOP facilities. “The LAPD shouldn’t have to divert its resources to a BOP facility. We should have enough correctional staff to manage these situations.”

“This type of violence, while alarming, happens repeatedly in federal prisons across the country – most recently at facilities in Forrest City, Ark., Oakdale, La., Beckley, W.Va., and several similarly situated facilities,” Lowry continued. “Management continues to turn a blind eye toward dangerous situations that put correctional officers, inmates, and the surrounding communities at risk, while categorizing each instance as an isolated incident. The union believes this is management’s attempt to lessen the seriousness of each occurrence.”

In recent months, members of the Council of Prison Locals have testified on Capitol Hill regarding the dangers of working in understaffed and underfunded federal prisons. The union has repeatedly asked for additional staff and the proper use of appropriated funds to ensure the safety and security of the nation’s federal prison system.

Specifically, CPL wants BOP to:

  • Fully staff and fund its prisons – Right now the inmate-to-staff ratio is 150:1 on most correctional assignments and too often can be as high as 300:1. Correctional officers are unarmed inside the facility.
  • Responsibly issue stab-resistant vests to correctional officers – Assaults on officers with homemade weapons have spiked in recent years.
  • Issue pepper spray to correctional staff – This less lethal weaponry would provide correctional officers the ability to protect themselves when violent outbreaks occur, and more easily restore order to the facility.
  • Continue the Federal Prison Industries (FPI) program – FPI announced it would eliminate factories at 14 facilities and downsize operations at four additional locations throughout the country – a move that union officials say could lead to potential violence at facilities with hundreds of idle inmates.

The FPI prison inmate work program is an important management tool that federal correctional officers and staff use to deal with the huge increase in the BOP prison inmate population. It helps keep 21,836 prison inmates – or about 17% of the eligible inmate population – productively occupied in labor-intensive activities, thereby reducing inmate idleness and the violence associated with that idleness. It also provides strong incentives to encourage good inmate behavior, as those who want to work in FPI factories must maintain a record of good behavior and must have completed high school or be making steady progress toward a General Education Degree (GED).

“The days of ‘doing more with less’ must end,” added Lowry. “If management continues to operate the BOP under its current conditions – understaffed, overcrowded, and with an increasingly violent inmate population – more tragic incidents such as the murder of Jose Rivera are sure to follow.”

For more information on assaults throughout the BOP, go to


The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.

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