15 March 2007

Booze in Prison, Who Knew?

Sometimes the Denver Post's lack of curiosity about their own stories baffles me. Consider this little understatement today (emphasis added):

Sablan and his cousin, Rudy Sablan, 47, are the first federal defendants in Colorado to face the death penalty since Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. They were charged with killing Estrella Oct. 10, 1999, after a night of drinking and fighting in the cell they shared at the federal penitentiary in Florence in central Colorado.

Since when can prisoners drink and fight with impunity in a federal prison cell? I mean, I know this is the "Wild West" and all, but since when do they have booze on tap in prison cells? Even I have to walk down the hall from my bedroom if I want to get drunk at night. But, honestly, what the hell is going on in Florence?

Alberto Gonzales stopped by the neighborhood three weeks ago and said everything was up to par, but my understanding is that even one of his earliest and most loyal supporters, Ken Salazar, is now calling for his resignation (I may be misinformed, my source had this second hand). Gonzales and creditability don't belong in the same sentence. The guard-union rep was less confident than Gonzales was:

warning that thin staffing has put prisons on the brink of disastrous riots as the nation's federal inmate population approaches 200,000.

Supermax union president Barbara Batulis, who accompanied Gonzales, said terrorists housed there still are able to communicate with followers in Spain and Iraq. . . .

New surveillance technology at Supermax and other prisons ignores the core issue of inadequate staffing, Gage said. "Those cameras will not replace correctional officers. And electric fences? We're not talking about escapes here. We're talking about safety within the walls," he said. . . .

In recent days here, outbreaks of violence prompted tower guards at the high-security U.S. Penitentiary adjacent to Supermax to fire lethal and nonlethal rounds to stop inmates from killing one another, said Ken Shatto, union president at the penitentiary.

"Today I'm trying to head off full-blown riots," he said. "That's where I think we are headed. This is no good for the safety and security of staffers and inmates alike." . . .

Threats to kill staff members have increased to about 110 last year, double the number in 2005, said chief union steward Bob Snelson, who represented guards last fall before an arbitrator who found dangerous understaffing.

Guards lament that, after a Justice Department inspector general's report and lawmakers focused attention on problems at Supermax last fall, federal prison chiefs began moving staff from the neighboring penitentiary and medium-security prison to Supermax.

"It's a shell game with bodies," Batulis said. These moves increased pressures at the other facilities, where riots in January left several guards injured.

Isn't there some middle ground between putting everybody naked in solitary confinement and having enough guards to notice a couple of guys drinking and fighting all night in their cell before the guards arive to be taunted with the loser's entrails?

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