The partial shutdown of the federal government is now entering month two, and federal prisons are desperately trying to hang on amid a shortage of staff and resources, according to several reports.
CNN spoke with prison employees and a union president who said the shutdown means workers are logging double shifts and are even asking maintenance and medical staff to fill in for corrections officers.
At the Metropolitan Correction Center in New York, which houses some 800 detainees, several inmates initiated a hunger strike last week in response to the cancelation of family visits due to low staff numbers, The New York Times reported. The Bureau of Prisons told CNN there was no hunger strike, a claim that was contradicted by Eric Young, the American Federation of Government Employees’ president of the Council of Prison Locals.
Young wrote an open letter to senators last Tuesday, urging lawmakers to act to end the shutdown.
“We work in an already dangerous and stressful environment, where going to work distracted or fatigued can lead to serious injury or death,” he said, adding that employees are wondering how to pay bills, as many “are being required to work mandatory overtime, and do so without pay.”
“It is a recipe for disaster because a distraction could cost you your life.”
On Friday, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) met with federal employees, including two Bureau of Prisons staffers from the state’s Fort Dix prison, and called attention to those struggling to make ends meet without a paycheck.
The day before, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) also met with local prison workers, highlighting the roughly 3,000 in his state who, he said, “have been risking their lives each day as they continue to work without pay.”