Pennsylvania’s two United States senators, Pat Toomey and Bob Casey Jr., along with U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, whose 9th District covers parts of Cambria and Somerset counties, sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday, expressing what they called “deep concerns” about Federal Bureau of Prisons staffing practices.
Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin from West Virginia also signed the letter.
The bipartisan group – Democrats Casey and Manchin; Republicans Toomey, Shuster and Moore Capito – cited the killings of two inmates this year – in separate incidents – at a prison in Hazelton, West Virginia, and the murder of Correctional Officer Eric Williams at a facility in Canaan, Wayne County, back in 2013, as examples of why they want staffing issues addressed.
They feel the system uses an over-reliance on augmentation, which is the practice of having staff that are not correctional officers stand guard. In the letter, they also informed Sessions there is, in their opinions, a failure to follow congressional directives to hire more full-time officers and reports of wardens failing to implement a policy of having at least two correctional officers on duty at high-security institutions’ housing units for all three shifts.
“As Members of Congress representing the great states of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, we are proud to have BOP facilities in our states, but we cannot allow these dangerous staffing practices to continue,” according to the letter.
The letter points out that Congress provided more than $7 billion in BOP funding for salaries and expenses in fiscal year 2018, which was a $106 million increase from the previous year.
Pennsylvania is home to 11 federal facilities, including a low-security correctional institution in Loretto, a municipality in the 9th District.