Local union advocating against federal prison job cuts

Staff could be reduced to 365 at USP Lee through federal cuts this year. (WCYB)

There is wide concern about staff reductions at a federal prison in southwest Virginia. The job cuts are part of a nationwide reduction by the Bureau of Prisons

The federal prison in Lee County, USP Lee, has 427 authorized staff positions, but the BOP has cuts underway and could ultimately eliminate 62 positions. That is according to the union representing prison employees, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1405.

Union president Brian Shoemaker said, "It's caused a burden on all departments, not just correctional services because the agency relies on what they call augmentation to back fill those crucial correctional services posts and they're pulling teachers, dentists, doctors, nurses."

News 5 reached out to the BOP. In an email response, the agency said several thousand positions nationwide were eliminated by the Department of Justice and Congress to 'rightsize' staffing levels. The agency said the reduction will not change its ability to maintain safety.

Shoemaker disputes that, "The escape attempt we had back in 2014 was directly related to cost-savings initiatives. They closed all the perimeter towers down. It provided the security for the perimeter in 2011. It doesn't take the inmates long to figure out. They've got 24-hours a day to figure out our flaws."

The local sheriff is among those concerned. Lee County Sheriff Gary Parsons said, "There's extreme danger if they get out they're going to hurt somebody. Those people in that maximum facility, they're the worst of the worst."

County leaders are also concerned about job losses because 42 percent of the employees working at the prison are Lee County residents.

"Our county is not in great financial shape. Any time there is a job loss, even one job, it impacts. It's a huge impact. That's our main focus is to keep as many employees as we can there," Lee County supervisor D.D. Leonard said.

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