Corrections officers working at a D.C. jail facility worry about their safety on a daily basis due to a lack of adequate staffing after recent layoffs, employees testified Thursday at a D.C. Council hearing on the facility’s management.
Corrections Corporation of America has run the District’s Correctional Treatment Facility since it took over operations from the District in 1997, but workers said problems that include faulty radios, inadequate staffing and high levels of contraband found inside the jail have been exacerbated since 77 employees — approximately one-third of the workforce — were laid off in April.
“They are putting us in danger as well as the inmates,” said Dana Bushrod, a corrections officer of 10 years and leader with the union that represents employees at the facility.
Ms. Bushrod went on to describe how units at the medium security facility, which is run separately from the higher security D.C. Jail that is still overseen by the District, are now commonly staffed with one corrections officer when they should be overseen by two or three officers.
“We have a mental health unit that should have three staff members but have had one,” Ms. Bushrod said. “We have had an incident where an officer was attacked because she was by herself and a mental health patient attacked her and another mental health inmate had to help her.”
Faulty radios and telephones also often leave officers without a way to communicate with staff in other units, she said.
“It’s pretty shocking, and the public should be very worried about some of these instances,” said John Rosser, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police Corrections Labor Committee that represents officers at the jail.
No representative from CCA attended the hearing before the council’s Committee on the Judiciary on Thursday morning or could be reached for comment. D.C. Council chairman Phil Mendelson, who oversaw the hearing, said that despite CCA’s absence from the hearing he believes officials are listening to their concern.
“The value of this hearing is it gives employes a way on the record to voice their concerns,” said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat, adding that a number of the concerns mentioned had been raised before. “Now the whole world is watching, so the views are out on the table.”
Several who attended the hearing spoke out against a continuation of CCA’s contract with the District to oversee operations at the facility. The contract is in force until 2017, according to information provided by Department of Corrections officials.
“The FOP union strongly opposed privatizing in the 1990s and nothing has happened in the intervening years to convince us we were wrong,” Mr. Rosser said. “Profit has no place being in the equation. Making money on the incarceration of citizens is ugly business.”
Others also raised concern about current conditions inside the jail.
A representative from the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital spoke about two deaf inmates who were not provided sign language interpreters. Advocates said some inmates were subject to inhumane treatment, as they were not let outside for months or their pleas for medical attention were ignored.
Corrections officers also expressed frustration that management provides written warning of contraband searches before they are conducted, giving inmates time to dispose of or hide weapons or other illegal items before the sweeps.