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Employees picket for better pay, hours at Littleton federal prison

FCI Englewood picket.jpg
Posted at 4:42 PM, Apr 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-02 07:35:50-04

LITTLETON, Colo. — A local union for federal prison employees picketed in front of the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in Littleton Monday morning to demand better pay, increased staffing and improved hours.

“To address the staffing issues, they reassigned other staff from other departments such as you know, cooks and teachers, recreation staff and facility staff to work officer posts,” said James Simmerman, AFGE Local 709 president and FCI Englewood cook supervisor. “So we've been dealing with, chronically, under 80% staffing across the board.”

Simmerman said mandatory overtime, low pay, employee retention and employee safety are major concerns.

“When you have exhausted staff, you know, you're not going to be as alert. You're not going to be able to do your job at as high a level. When you're on your third straight day of 16-hour days, it's really hard to be as alert and pay as much attention as you were if you were working, you know, a normal 40-hour work week," Simmerman said.

Simmerman said those who refuse to work overtime face disciplinary action.

“We also have a massive problem with illicit drugs and contraband coming in. Our staff are dealing with high inmates almost every single day here. We've had over 100 uses of Narcan in the last year on inmates here with overdoses from drugs. We've had several deaths in the last couple of years here from overdoses. It's becoming more and more of a problem,” Simmerman said. “It's a ticking time bomb until one of our staff comes in contact with fentanyl or some of the other drugs that are extremely potent in small amounts and something happens you know, even worse.”

A recent Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition study found that despite Department of Corrections funding increases, prison populations are outpacing new hires.

In a statement to Denver7, the Federal Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on the picketing but said in part, "Priorities for the FBOP remain focused on staffing, employee wellness, training, and creating “good neighbors.”"

Full statement:

"Staffing at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Englewood remains a top priority.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) and FCI Englewood are committed to ensuring appropriate staffing levels to maintain the safety and security of employees and those incarcerated.  FCI Englewood is actively recruiting to hire various positions including Correctional Officers and utilizing various retention incentives to attract and retain employees.  

Priorities for the FBOP remain focused on staffing, employee wellness, training, and creating “good neighbors.” Maintaining fully staffed institutions is a key priority for the FBOP as it affects the safety and security of our institutions, and the wellness of our employees, and provides better outcomes for those in our custody.  We are currently pursuing strategies to modernize hiring across the agency. This includes a Hiring Initiative focused on hiring external applicants, increased utilization of recruitment and retention incentives, pay flexibilities, and increased efforts to fill First Step Act positions.  

Additionally, the FBOP uses a variety of social media networks and platforms to advertise and network with potential candidates.  We have an updated and targeted approach towards branding and marketing to attract quality candidates to our organization.  Recruitment efforts include, but are not limited to, Google Ad campaigns; Facebook, LinkedIn, and Indeed Ads and job postings; recruitment videos on YouTube, billboard advertisements, and virtual recruitment events, as well as recruitment through various professional organizations, including the military.

Currently, FCI Englewood has a 25% recruitment incentive for Correctional Officers, and a 10% retention incentive for Correctional Services Staff, renewed annually."

“We want staff retention… we need something to give incentive for them to stay here,” said Michael Caraballo, FCI Englewood case manager.

Caraballo said as a case worker, he’s in a very unique position when he is asked to perform correctional officer duties.

“I am their sole person who goes and gets them back out community. And then to me to have to turn that switch to go back to being on the custody side only, it's really difficult,” Caraballo said.

Simmerman said prison employees can not strike legally but they will continue to voice their concerns to prison administration, state and federal lawmakers.

Employees picket for better pay, hours at Littleton federal prison

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