Regardless of your political view, the government shutdown had serious implications for federal workers around the country. However, it wasn’t only federal employees who felt the impact of the government shutdown, but inmates as well. So let’s discuss the effects:
The problems that inmates experience during a shutdown stem from short-staffed prisons. During a shutdown, the Bureau of Prisons only allows employees to continue working if their duties involve “the safety of human life or the protection of property.”
According to The Marshall Project, up to half of the Bureau of Prisons’ staff was furloughed during this past shutdown—the longest shutdown in U.S. history. The remaining employees were asked to keep working unpaid and focus on maintaining security.
Local jails also often receive funding from the government to house federal inmates, and they too felt the impact.
So how does this affect inmates?
Many social visits for inmates were cancelled because of a lack of staff. Being able to keep up with communication to friends and family members helps inmates build and maintain relationships and reduces recidivism. Its importance cannot be understated; check out this previous Encartele article on the subject.
Arguably, more important is an inmate’s ability to be able to meet with their legal aid. The Bureau of Prisons confirmed to the criminal justice journalism team, The Appeal, that this had happened in Brooklyn and Manhattan. When a lawyer isn’t allowed to meet with their client, it can delay court proceedings and sentencing, extending the amount of custody time.
Applications that inmates filed for “compassionate release,” often went unread during the shutdown. Compassionate release is a process that is eligible to inmates who have special humanitarian circumstances, like terminal illness. These people do not have time to wait around. They want to be able to get home as soon as possible and spend their remaining days with their loved ones.
Inmates in varying situations were deprived of educational classes, library access and programs, as well as transfers and visits with mental-health professionals.
Though it was denied by the Bureau of Prisons, The New York Times reported that some prisoners went on hunger strikes, protesting the cuts that their facilities faced.
The government shutdown directly affected inmates who were unable to do anything to change their circumstances.
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