EXCLUSIVE: Massive Contraband Smuggling Problem, Staffing Shortage Behind Security Lockdown at Federal Prison in Big Spring
BIG SPRING, TX—The Federal Correctional Institution in Big Spring went on lockdown Sunday following an attack on a Corrections Officer and authorities are shipping out large numbers of inmates to combat a massive contraband problem.
According to FCI Big Spring Union Vice President Paula Chavez, “We have had a massive contraband problem in the last two years which has led to staff injuries and now this due to restrictions having to be placed on the inmate population to try and control it.”
On May 30, Corrections Officer Hunt was attempting to confiscate a contraband cell phone when he was attacked and injured by two inmates. The fight in May led to the lockdown. Cell phones are not allowed in federal prisons. The Big Spring prison is classified as a low security facility including the main prison and an inmate prison camp. The main prison is surrounded by security fencing and all inmates are strip searched before they enter it. The prison camp is not fenced and inmates must qualify for placement in the camp.
Inmates assigned to the landscaping crew pick up trash along the streets near the prison. One possible way contraband enters the prison is that someone outside places a cell phone or other contraband in a bag that looks like trash and throws the bag on the ground where inmates pick it up and it makes its way back inside. There is no evidence this is happening at Big Spring, according to Chavez.
Chavez and the union blame executive orders for the cutbacks in staffing leading to the dangerous situation. “Ties back to short staffing, the Bureaus self imposed hiring freeze of 2016 followed by more staffing cuts. We just can’t run our institutions safely with as many inmates as we had.”
Chavez says the BOP under orders from President Trump has created an environment where corrections officers are in danger. “We don’t have the numbers to supervise them. Not unless security is severely enhanced and modifications are made. The Agency is choosing the latter, and the inmate population went on a work strike, refusing to leave their units on Friday after being briefed on a modified recreation schedule being piloted for a period of time so that we could assess our vulnerable areas for contraband introduction.”
Chavez says the inmates began to push back with the new restrictions. “They also refused to accept food that we offered but they had a ton of stockpiled commissary and most were eating well. Not all the inmates want to be a part of it, but they are forced by others. It’s gang/race controlled- that’s a while other rabbit hole. I think we’ve gotten rid of enough of the high rollers & strong arms to slow it all way down for now.”
According to Chavez, administrators have been shipping inmates to other facilities to get the population down in Big Spring. The prison can house 1,032 inmates in the main prison and 196 in the camp.
“The inmates thought by not working or eating our food that Region would come in and lift all the new restrictions, however Region has to know and approve the changes, so that would never happen in this case. Once locked down many inmates began threatening our staff- that’s what has kept us down this many days. We had to overhaul the population to get control back.” said Chavez.
The lock down at the Big Spring FCI will continue until further notice. According to the FCI Big Spring website, visitation at the FCI has been suspended until further notice.
Editor's clarification (June 21, 2018): The author described a possible method of smuggling contraband inside the prison facility based upon firsthand interviews while the author himself was incarcerated at a federal prison. We added after the author's example that, "There is no evidence this is happening at Big Spring, according to Chavez."