Congressman right to seek prison reform

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., was right to be concerned about informational picketing last week by members of a prison guards’ union at the federal correctional center in Preston County, West Virginia.

McKinley is aware the union members were not demonstrating in the hope of getting higher wages and / or better fringe benefits — but to call attention to a demonstrated danger at the prison.

It was in the news earlier this month when notorious mobster James “Whitey” Bulger was murdered there. He was the third prisoner to be killed at that prison this year.

Last week, members of the guards’ union protested staff cuts at the prison. As local union president Richard Heldreth put it, “The understaffing at our facility has led to an increase in violence, drugs, drug abuse, fights, assaults.”

Officially, the prison at Hazelton is supposed to have a staff of 796, down from the 880 it once had. But about 10 percent of the positions there are vacant. That means those who are working have to put in substantial overtime. Some staff who normally do not supervise inmates are being used to do so.

McKinley wants a prison reform bill in Congress now to focus on correcting staff problems at several prisons. “I want to make sure that we get the replacement guards that are necessary,” McKinley said last week.

He is correct in that emphasis. Understaffed, overcrowded prisons are pressure cookers — boiling toward explosions.

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