Correctional officers’ union at FCI Ray Brook sounds the alarm

Judging from the response of the leadership of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, we are grossly underprepared to properly react and reduce the affects of the COVID-19 pandemic at the Federal Correctional Institute at Ray Brook. The measures put in place are nothing more than an attempt to appear that we are addressing the issues, while in reality we are doing nothing.

Even though the Bureau of Prisons enacted a no-transfer order nationwide, it is currently attempting to transfer inmates from the epicenter of the infection, New York City, to other locations throughout the country. If any of those inmates come to FCI Ray Brook, we will most certainly see the numbers in our rural community skyrocket. At FCI Ray Brook, we currently have no ability to test staff members or inmates. We lack the necessary personal protective equipment to deal with an outbreak within the prison. And we are not taking any steps to seriously limit the spread of the virus within our prison through social distancing.

Below, I have listed three main areas of concern at the Federal Correctional Institute Ray Brook:

¯ Personal protective equipment — At the moment we are inadequately prepared to keep staff safe if we need to quarantine inmates. We do not have the ability to test staff members or inmates to see if they are infected with COVID-19. In addition, we are lacking the recommended PPE needed to safely supervise inmates under quarantine. When the need to quarantine inmates due to the virus arises, without the required PPE, staff members risk transmitting the virus home to their families and community.

¯ Staff screening site — The current operation of the screening site does not limit potential exposure to staff members. Currently, staff members wait in the outside weather to be called in to be tested. And as we all know, the morning temperature in the North Country is still a little brisk. This can potentially lower the temperature of the reading that is registered. This potentially inaccurate temperature, along with other self-reporting questions, are what is being used to determine if someone is allowed to report to work.

¯ Social distancing — Almost the entire nation has closed all educational instruction; however, FCI Ray Brook is still allowing inmates to come to several classes voluntarily. Even though we attempt to limit interaction between inmates from different housing units by sending each housing unit to the dining hall and recreation area with their respective housing unit only, we are still allowing them to mingle housing units in education and religious services. This practice makes our attempts to limit the possible spread of the virus futile since we allow them to congregate in education and religious services.

The mission of the Federal Correctional Institute Ray Brook is to protect society by confining offenders in the controlled environments of prisons and community-based facilities that are safe, humane, cost-efficient and appropriately secure, and to provide work and other self-improvement opportunities to assist offenders in becoming law-abiding citizens. The key aspect of our mission is to protect society. By not taking steps to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 within FCI Ray Brook, we are placing the community around us in greater danger of contacting the virus.

James Weldon lives in Evans Mills and is president of AFGE CPL33, Local 3882, a union that represents all bargaining unit employees at the Federal Correctional Institute at Ray Brook.


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