Prisoners Eat Steak While Guards Work for No Pay

January 6, 2019 Updated: January 6, 2019

Inmates in federal prisons enjoyed succulent, gourmet meals over the holidays, while the partial government shutdown forced overstretched corrections staff to look on in frustration—and without pay.

Prison staff at dozens of correctional facilities across the United States witnessed inmates enjoying special meals on Christmas and New Year’s Day, according to NBC News, while many employees not only had to work for no pay but were ordered to cut short vacations or face punishment.

“This is appalling,” said Coleman prison union chief Joe Rojas, according to USA Today. “We’re not getting paid, and the inmates are eating steak. The inmates know what’s going on; they know about the shutdown, and they are laughing at us.”

Prisoners incarcerated at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex skipped the usual scrambled egg or hamburger lunch, the news outlet reported, and instead enjoyed a Christmas meal consisting of herb-dusted Cornish game hens, cornbread dressing, gravy, rice pilaf, and assorted pies.

Meals to Boost Morale

Officials told USA Today that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has for years had a policy in place “to prepare a special meal or offer special items to promote morale for the inmate population because they are separated from their families.”

But as staff members faced the threat of lost wages or suspensions if they refused requests to work during their holidays, the lavish meals have become a staff bugbear.

“You’re giving a gift to somebody who committed a crime, but yet you won’t pay the people who are supervising them?” said Sandy Parr, a food service foreman at Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., according to NBC. “It’s frustrating and maddening.”

Cornish hen and Boston creme pie were on the menu at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, the news outlet reported, citing obtained documents, while on New Year’s Day, inmates at FCI Pekin in Illinois dined on shrimp and steak.

“That really [expletive] off our people,” said Eric Young, president of the national prison union, according to USA Today. “You are seeing prisoners getting steak, roast beef, and Cornish hens, and you can’t put that kind of food on the table for your own family. That isn’t right.”

What’s more, working inmates—who do jobs like meal preparation or facility maintenance—also pulled in federal government paychecks, adding to staff frustration.

“This is like kicking someone when they are down,” Joe Rojas, president of The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 506 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Florida, wrote in a letter to the Bureau of Prisons, seen by USA Today.

‘We Are the Collateral Damage’

Young blamed political intrigue for the shutdown’s spillover into the prison system, saying corrections staff “are the collateral damage” and becoming increasingly demoralized.

“Imagine doing that at a time when you’ve got staff who can’t put food on the table or put gas in the car,” Young said. “You can imagine what that does to the morale.”

Dwayne Bautista, a correctional officer at FDC Honolulu and local union president, said the shutdown means skeleton crews are keeping facilities afloat, putting lives in danger.

“These guys are going to get burnt out and might make bad decisions,” said Bautista. “Working over 16 hours on a day-to-day basis is unhealthy. I’m just hoping this government opens up.”

The shutdown has now gone into its 16th day. Democrats have bitterly fought against approving funding for the border wall, President Donald Trump’s signature campaign promise.

Meanwhile, Trump told reporters at a Jan. 4 press conference that he has appointed a team, led by Vice President Mike Pence, that will meet with a Democratic group over the weekend to resolve the border wall standoff that prompted the shutdown.

Trump told reporters he hopes the shutdown “doesn’t go on even for a few more days.”

The president also reiterated his calls for $5.6 billion in funding for the U.S.–Mexico border wall, describing the immigration situation at the southern border of the United States as a “dangerous, horrible disaster.”

Trump called for a breakthrough in the deadlock, calling the temporary hardship of the shutdown “doing what you have to do for the safety and the benefit of our country.”

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