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Federal prison workers protest in Victorville, saying the transfer of detainees creates a dangerous situation

Federal prison workers protest in Victorville, saying the transfer of detainees creates a dangerous situation
Union members protest outside FCC Victorville, where about 1,000 new ICE detainees have recently been transferred. (Gabriel S. Scarlett / Los Angeles Times)

Prison workers gathered outside the Federal Correctional Complex in Victorville on Friday to protest what they say are unsafe conditions that have been exacerbated by the recent transfer of hundreds of immigration detainees to the facility.

Nearly 1,000 immigration detainees are being housed at the massive prison as part of the Trump administration’s plan to expand the use of detention during its crackdown on asylum seekers and immigrants in the country illegally.

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John Kostelnik, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3969, which represents workers at the prison, said the transfer has been chaotic.

“We need something to guide us on how we are going to do this, and we have nothing,” he said.

Lori Haley, an ICE spokeswoman, said in a written statement Friday that “ICE is confident in the care and oversight provided by the [Bureau of Prisons] and believes these are extremely safe and secure facilities for ICE detainees.”

But Kostelnik and other workers say the prison is scrambling to deal with the influx.

The prison lacks the medical staff to deal with hundreds of detainees from around the world, Kostelnik said.

Medical workers have told him the facility needs an additional doctor and nurses or physician assistants to handle the detainees’ medical care.

“They’re telling me, ‘I am pleading for help now,’” Kostelnik said.

He added that workers have received no guidance about procedures for visitations or outdoors time for the detainees, and said that the prison has not added any staff to help with the new population.

Detainees have been separated into housing units of about 125 people. One corrections officer, who carries pepper spray, a radio and keys, is assigned to each unit, Kostelnik said.

When union officials ask about additional staff, he said, they are told it is unnecessary because the detainees will be housed at the prison only temporarily.

Meanwhile, Kostelnik said that prison workers are being stretched thin as they try to manage inmates along with the detainees.

The union had been protesting what it says is insufficient staffing even before the detainees were transferred to the prison. In April, the union put up billboards throughout Southern California that read, “Budget cuts may lead to death in federal prisons.”

The complex in Victorville houses about 3,700 inmates in a high-security prison, two medium-security prisons and a minimum-security camp.

The use of the facility and others run by the Bureau of Prisons was announced last week. Immigration officials said at the time that it would be a temporary measure “until ICE can obtain additional long-term contracts for new detention facilities or until the surge in illegal border crossings subsides.”

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The number of people apprehended at the Southwest border has increased in recent months, but overall apprehensions remain at historic lows.

In addition to Victorville, smaller numbers of detainees will be housed at prisons in SeaTac, Wash.; La Tuna, Texas; Sheridan, Ore.; and Phoenix.

Haley, the ICE spokeswoman, did not answer several specific questions about staffing at the prison or whether ICE had provided any guidance about how detainee visits and outdoors time would be handled.

She referred additional questions to the Bureau of Prisons. Officials there did not immediately respond to an inquiry, but in a statement last week officials said the federal prisons have beds available “due to the decline in the inmate population over the past several years, and will use existing staff” to oversee the detainees.

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