Oklahoma correctional officers concerned about safety amid cuts

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A nationwide push to cut staffing levels within the Federal Bureau of Prisons is causing concern right here in Oklahoma.

Tom Townley says being a correctional officer is one of the toughest jobs out there.

“We've seen the worst of the worst right there. I mean murderers, rapists, terrorists,” said Townley, a correctional officer in Oklahoma.

Because of the nature of the job, it can be a difficult position to fill.

"We've got 23 or 24 vacant positions right now, correctional officers," Townley says

However, officials say they've learned their jobs may be getting even harder in the coming months.

Last year, the Trump administration began calling for a 14 percent reduction in federal prison jobs, which equals about 6,000 jobs in federal prisons throughout the country.

Townley says the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City could soon be losing nearly 50 positions.

"Nationwide, they`re cutting 14.46 percent of staffing positions,” said Bobby Hutchinson, another correctional officer.

Prison guards with a local prison union say the news means 47 positions at the Transfer Center and another 50 in El Reno could be on the chopping block.

In the meantime, both facilities have a temporary plan to meet staffing levels.

“In the housing unit, we don't have enough staff, so they'll send like a secretary, an accountant, a nurse whoever is available. They create a list, and when they come in, they tell them, 'OK, you're going to this housing unit,” Hutchinson said.

They claim that secretaries, accountants and nurses are returning to guard prisoners.

“They're qualified to be correctional officers, but they moved to other positions. They might have been a correctional officer 10 years ago,” Hutchinson said.

Guards said the training has changed from two decades ago, so now nurses and secretaries are searching inmates for weapons and drugs.

“They feed the inmate when they get up, they have to make sure the right inmates are in there. They're supposed to do cell searches where you go in and search the cell,” Townley said.

They say in the end, it comes down to safety.

“It puts the staff's safety in jeopardy and also the inmates,” Hutchinson said.

The Federal Bureau of Prison sent News 4 the following statement:

"We are currently eliminating several thousand vacant authorized positions. These positions have been identified by the Department of Justice and Congress to be eliminated as part of an effort to “rightsize” the BOP authorized staffing levels in light of the significant decrease in the inmate population we experienced over the last 4 years.

The elimination of these positions will not result in any staff members being displaced or any Reduction in Force, and the BOP does not expect this to impact institutional operations or its overall ability to maintain a safe environment for inmates and staff. Likewise, we believe that reducing authorized positions will not have a negative impact on public safety.

The FY2018 budget has not yet been enacted. To the extent the FY2018 budget calls for the elimination of additional positions, the BOP will work with DOJ to effect such changes."