Union: DOC officers’ safety at risk; feds asked to step in

Department of Corrections (PNC file photo)
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The union that represents many of the employees at the island’s prison has lodged a complaint with the Federal Bureau of Prisons about working conditions at the Department of Corrections.

GFT union representative Robert Koss says one of the biggest complaints he has heard from the DOC employees he represents is the elimination of the back-up SWAT team at DOC that could be called on by guards in the event of an emergency.

Koss says DOC Director Samantha Brennan eliminated that unit in a cost-cutting move when she took over the department.

“Each and every day a corrections officers go to work, they don’t know if they’re going to come out alive because they have no backup. If one officer is in there with 70 inmates, survival of the officer is at the whim of the inmates,” Koss said.

That’s not the only concern DOC employees have. Koss says that the prison is being managed in violation of the law.

“We’ve got unpaid overtime, 24-hour shifts, we’ve got guards without any backup at all, and a 1 to 70 ratio. And the guards are asked to continue and while the governor’s intentions might be good, they’re slow. Their remedy is slow in coming. We need relief today,” Koss said.

As a result, he says the GFT has taken its concerns to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“We have initiated discussion today with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the OSHA division, Occupational Safety and Health … If the government of Guam does not prioritize DOC and ensure that it is adequately funded so that it can function in accordance with federal standards, then we’ll do what we have to or do what we can,” Koss said.

He added: “It’s only been a year, or approximately a year, since we were out of receivership. And already the concerns for the operations at DOC seem to be falling to the side.”

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero met again this morning with DOC director Brennan to discuss the situation at the prison. Both have declined comment. But the governor’s chief of staff, Tony Babauta, said the administration is conducting a thorough review of the employee grievances and will issue a response to what they have learned next week.