Seatac corrections officers take safety concerns public

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on March 22, 2013 at 10:16 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 9 at 9:19 AM

It’s not often that federal prison guards air their complaints in public, but that’s exactly what happened this week in front of the Federal Detention Center in Seatac.

“Every day our lives are on the line, because we’re outnumbered by inmates,” said James Wilson, who was worked as a corrections officer for more than six years.

Wilson was among a group of FDC Seatac corrections officers and union members who demonstrated Wednesday outside the federal prison facility demanding safer working conditions and warning about the increased dangers from planned budget cuts.

A KING 5 Investigation last month showed how years of budget woes have left thousands of unfilled staff jobs nationwide inside federal prisons, even as the prisons are increasingly overcrowded and dangerous.

“The safety factor of having less officers, less staffing available, inmates having less programs -– that makes them a lot more volatile.  It’s just a recipe for disaster,” said Seatac corrections officer Stephonne Wilson.

A video obtained by the KING 5 Investigators is evidence of that. It shows the vicious beating last year of a veteran corrections officer who was working alone unlocking cells in the early morning hours of January 3, 2012.

The video shows two inmates jumping the officer and beating him with a pipe. The attack ends only after other inmates intervened. The officer survived, but still has not returned to work.

That same scenario played out again last month at a federal prison outside of Scranton, Penn.

On February 25, Officer Eric Williams was beaten and stabbed to death by an inmate.

The Bureau of Prisons has said very little about the incident. But multiple sources from the guards union told KING 5 that Williams was working alone locking the doors during his night shift. Those sources said Williams' body went undiscovered for up to a half hour before another staff member came to check up on him.

Officers at Seatac say the same thing could happen to them.

“You typically have one officer assigned to a unit and you can have up to 130 inmates in that unit,” said veteran Seatac officer Adam Schiele.

More cuts coming

“We can do a lot better than we’re doing right now in our federal prisons,” said Congressman Adam Smith, whose district includes the Seatac facility.

“I’ve advocated for more money for them, I’ve even been willing to vote for the taxes necessary to pay for it,” said Smith.

But that’s a tough sell in Congress right now, as lawmakers debate additional cuts to federal spending on top of billions in automatic cuts imposed by the federal budget sequester that began last month.

Officers said are bracing for furloughs that are scheduled to take place in the coming weeks.

“They need to do something to get rid of the sequester because our lives are on the line everyday,” said Wilson.  “With sequester coming in, we have to do more furloughs. You’re putting our lives in jeopardy.”

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