Federal budget cuts may remove positions at Wisconsin's only federal prison

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OXFORD, Wis. (WSAW) The Federal Department of Justice is planning to cut 6,000 corrections officers positions from federal prisons across the country, as part of the federal budget. Wisconsin is home to one federal prison in Oxford, in Adams County. Under the current plan, they would lose 35 positions.

The Union President at Oxford Prison, Tim, Viegut, spoke exclusively with NewsChannel 7. He said if these cuts go through, it would put the public even more at risk.

"Those are all vacant positions but that's because in January 2017, they had a hiring freeze. So anybody that left, retired, or quit, they didn't fill those positions."

Viegut said the hiring freeze is the reason the prison is understaffed right now. HHe also said employees aren't the only ones who knows about this.

"Inmates know when our staffing is down and if they were planning an escape, an assault... They understand we don't have as many staff here as we used to," Viegut said.

A statement from the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Oxford Prison reads: "These positions have been identified by the Department of Justice and Congress to be eliminated as they have been unfunded for some time.

Corrections Officers NewsChannel 7 spoke with said they need these positions still. They said right now there aren't enough custody officers to oversee inmates, so people who were hired to work in programs like education, recreation, and tradesmen are now taking on custody officer shifts.

Aaron Palmer works at Oxford Prison as a case manager and steward, but recently he has been taking on custody shifts-- a position that directly oversees inmates. He said sometimes that means his work as a case manager has to take a back seat.

"My primary duties are as a case manager and I'm sure there are plenty of correctional officers there who are more proficient at their duties that I am because I'm not doing that on a daily basis but I do what I have to for my fellow staff members there."

Corrections officers said safety is their biggest concern. Mel Klitzkem, who is a custody correctional officer, said the ratio of inmates to staff is never good.

"When I talk to people and they find out there is 112 inmates and in one housing unit and I'm there by myself, they go 'wow'. That's scary to them and I'm like that's everyday life as a correctional officer. " Kltizke said.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons and Oxford Prison said in a statement to NewsChannel 7 that the safety of staff or inmates is not at risk. The full statement reads:

"We (Bureau-wide) are currently eliminating several thousand vacant authorized positions. These positions have been identified by the Department of Justice and Congress to be eliminated as they have been unfunded for some time. The elimination of these positions will not result in any staff members being displaced or any Reduction in Force, and the Bureau of Prisons (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 FY 2018 budget has not yet been enacted. To the extent the FY 2018 budget calls for the elimination of additional positions, the BOP will work with DOJ to effect such changes."

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is proposing the elimation of another 1,000 positions nationwide for 2019.