Correctional officers at El Reno’s federal prison are calling out the president many of them supported over his plan to move inmates to private prisons, while eliminating many of their positions.
A memo leaked from the U.S. Department of Justice shows President Trump’s plan to move low-security inmates to private prisons such as the one operated in Hinton. The memo, from F. Lara, assistant director of Correctional Programs Division and dated Jan. 24, 2018, says moving the inmates to private prisons is being done to “alleviate the overcrowding at Bureau of Prisons institutions.”
In June of 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported Trump was planning to move federal inmates into private prisons.
Joshua Lepird, union spokesman for correctional officers at the El Reno FCI, said the plan to cut staff at the prison will create more danger for not only the officers but for the inmates as well.
The job of the correctional officer inside the prison walls is to “keep the peace, for not only the officers but for the inmates also,” said Lepird, a 12-year-veteran at the FCI.
He and Tom Townley, a representative of Local Union 171, said most corrections officers agree there is plenty of waste to be cut in the federal government, but doing away with positions inside the prison walls is not a wise move.
They point to last summer’s riot at the private prison in Hinton in which low-security federal inmates went on a rampage.
Three correctional officers and a number of inmates were injured in the riot and extensive property damage was reported.
The Great Plains Prison in Hinton is operated by the GEO Group of Boca Raton, Fla., and contracts with the Bureau of Prisons to house federal inmates.
Reports say the prison holds about 1,900 prisoners and employs about 300 people. Lawmen from municipal and county agencies including the Canadian County Sheriff's Office responded to the riot.
“Those are considered low-security inmates,” Lepird said.
“If low-security inmates do that, imagine the danger inside a medium- or high-security prison.”
El Reno FCI stands to lose 47 positions if the plan is pushed through. Lepird was leaving for Washington, D.C. this week to appeal to Oklahoma’s congressional delegation to help in the matter.
He and Townley said correctional officers have historically had congressional support, but all the lawmakers can do is advise the BOP not to implement the cuts.
The job cuts have already had a negative impact with secretaries and counselors now serving as correctional officers at the El Reno FCI, Lepird said.
“These people had their three weeks of training at Glynco just like all of us, but they didn’t hire on to be officers,” Lepird said, referring to the federal training center at the city in Georgia.
“They’re secretaries and counselors and now they have them working as officers.”
Even more frustrating for the union representatives is the fact the BOP budget is projected to grow by $70 million. They said increasing the budget while cutting positions does not seem to make sense.
The El Reno FCI has about 1,200 inmates and 300 employees.