Archive for Thursday, July 5, 2007

Congressmen seek more federal funds for prison

July 5, 2007

Two congressmen on a visit Tuesday to Leavenworth called on the federal government to provide more staffing and a possible new addition to the U.S. Penitentiary.

U.S. Reps. Nancy Boyda and Dennis Moore, both D-Kan., toured the penitentiary and highlighted the need for increased national funding for the Bureau of Prisons in a news conference afterward at Leavenworth's Riverfront Community Center.

"Our concern is that we keep an appropriate staffing level across the board," said Boyda, who represents Kansas' 2nd District, which includes Lansing. "We can't claim to be tough on crime and neglect our prisons."

In a letter dated June 11, a congressional delegation that included Boyda and Moore requested $427 million from the House Appropriations Committee for salaries and expenses and $410 million for buildings and facilities nationwide for the prisons bureau.

The letter was followed up Friday by U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who sent a letter to Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Harley Lappin asking that the bureau consider building its new facility in Leavenworth, Kansas. Brownback and Lappin are scheduled to meet later this year to discuss the issue in more detail.

If funding increases are seen in the coming weeks, staffing levels at the 110-year-old facility in Leavenworth, which Boyda said were "adequate at best," could increase as well.

Moore pointed to a 239 percent increase in the federal prison inmate population since 1990 while staffing levels in that same period of time increased by only 106 percent.

"If we're going to keep more people in prison : we need funding for that increase in the prison population to grow at a proper ratio," said Moore, a former Johnson County district attorney. "Funds haven't been cut back but haven't increased commensurately to the prison population."

Mark Swope, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, Council of Prison Locals, a union that represents roughly 28,000 workers in the Bureau of Prisons, estimated that the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth lost approximately $4.6 million in federal funding when it was downgraded from a maximum-security to a medium-security facility two years ago.

"When Leavenworth went from maximum to medium, certainly everyone was looking to build an additional prison here," Boyda said.

She said federal officials planned to locate a new maximum-security prison somewhere in the Midwest, quite possibly in Leavenworth.

With four prisons already established in Leavenworth, Swope said the county would provide an ideal location for any new facility.

"Nobody's been doing it longer or doing it better," he said. "There'd be a higher concentration of staff here, less dollars spent on moves, and you could consolidate departments more easily."

Brownback made that point in his letter.

"The city of Leavenworth, KS, is uniquely positioned as not only a 'prison friendly community' but also encompasses the resources needed for such an expansion," Brownback wrote. "Already, the Bureau and Department of Justice own acreage that is contiguous to Fort Leavenworth that would be able to accommodate a new prison facility and already houses two Bureau facilities, USP Leavenworth and the minimum security 'Honor Farm.' This infrastructure fits well within the Bureau's current focus of maximizing efficiency by building several facilities in one location, thereby saving taxpayer dollars - especially if this new proposed facility is a maximum security infrastructure.

"In addition to the potential cost savings, the Leavenworth community is ready, willing and eager to assist you in building a new prison facility. With four major prison facilities located within the Leavenworth-Lansing area and as home to one of the Bureau's most historic facilities, the business and law-enforcement community as well as city management are coordinated and ready to work with you in order to build and operate a new prison.If another federal prison were to move to the current site, Leavenworth could have three facilities - a maximum, a medium and a minimum-security - all on the same property," Brownback wrote

Boyda and Moore had no projections for the many jobs a new prison would create or what the costs of the undertaking might be, but Boyda said, "These are good jobs, long-term jobs and offer good benefits."

Moore said the House Appropriations Committee would meet within the next two weeks.

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