- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2006

FLORENCE, Colo. (AP) — Cory Hodge was a prison guard for less than three years at Supermax — home of America’s most feared and notorious criminals — before he had enough. He left to take a job as a train conductor.

“I felt like staffing levels were coming to a point where it was getting ridiculously dangerous to be there,” said Mr. Hodge, who was stabbed in the head and arms at another prison before going to Supermax. “I have a wife and children. I want to be around for them.”

Guards at Supermax complain that because of cost-cutting, staffing levels are perilously low, and as a result, prisoners are growing angrier and threats and assaults against the staff are on the rise at the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”

The $60 million institution is the nation’s most secure prison, reserved for the worst of the worst. Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, terrorist cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, would-be shoe bomber Richard C. Reid and Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols are all there, locked up in solitary, awaiting a single hour outside each day.

As of August, however, of the 221 guard positions allotted to Supermax, only 186 were filled, U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Mike Truman said.

There were 240 guards when the prison opened in 1994, said Barbara Batulis, a union vice president. Today, there are more than 460 inmates, up from 265 in 1995. Supermax has 490 beds.

An arbitrator recently said staffing is so low that job hazards have increased, some cellblocks have been left unstaffed at times, and cells are not being searched regularly. Last year, two inmates were beaten to death by other prisoners, the first slayings in Supermax history.

“To me, that’s a red flag to say let’s figure out what happened and not let it happen again,” said state Rep. Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, a Democrat whose district includes the prison. “It could’ve been a correctional officer that didn’t go home those days.”

The union has filed a grievance over staffing levels, and critics want Congress to funnel more money for staffing.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons, with about 35,000 staff members last year, has been eliminating positions nationwide. Nearly 2,400 jobs have been cut out of 3,118 targeted to be phased out, a 2005 report said.

At Supermax, formally known as the Administrative Maximum facility, or ADX, the cells are 7-by-12-foot soundproof spaces, designed so inmates cannot make eye contact with one another.

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