Senators Tour Supermax, Look Into Claims Of Understaffing

Union: Funding Problems Means Staff Positions Not Filled At Maximum Security Prison

Colorado's U.S. senators are responding to complaints of staffing shortages at the Supermax prison in Florence, about 90 minutes from Denver.

Sen. Wayne Allard visited the facility Monday and Sen. Ken Salazar toured Supermax on Saturday.

The maximum-security prison holds 400 of the most dangerous, high-profile criminals, including Sept. 11, 2001, conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Union officials representing correctional officers said that funding problems have left the prison unable to staff necessary positions.

Salazar said a management review was needed to determine what needs to be done at the prison without compromising safety.

"We need to give all the resources necessary so that we are comfortable and confident it has the highest level of security," Salazar said Saturday.

Allard said he wants to make sure money approved by Congress made its way to the federal prison and hasn't been diverted elsewhere.

Earlier this month, an arbitrator concluded that staffing levels fell short of reducing correctional officers' inherent job hazards to their lowest levels. The Office of the Inspector General also released a report that found the Bureau of Prisons has not effectively monitored the mail of terrorist inmates.

Salazar spoke with union officials, State Rep. Buffie McFadyen, and city and county officials about their concerns. A Bureau of Prisons official was not available for comment Sunday evening.

"I'd say the mission at the Supermax is no less important to our Homeland Security of this country than the Department of Defense," said McFadyen.

Some said cuts in the number of corrections officers at the Supermax facility has created a situation that is potentially unsafe for the guards working there.

"Right now something in the system is broke," said prison guard representative Mike Schnobrich. "It's not being run as safe as it can be."

Allard heard from those who believe budget cuts have put them or their friends at risk.

"Somewhere between where you are pushing money in and where it's coming out does not seem to be working correctly," said Schnobrich.

"Their safety is a big concern for us," said Florence Mayor Cindy Cox. "If they are understaffed and they are getting themselves put in harm's way -- we consider them family, part of our community."

Allard said he is most concerned about perimeter security at the prison complex.

"I think they have a very good facility from what I saw at the prison," said Allard. "There's more that could be done and that's what this meeting is all about."

Allard said there is a minimal risk of prisoners breaking out of the facility.

He will discuss Supermax with the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the coming weeks.

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