Ohio federal prison correctional officers, staff tired of being unpaid 'political pawns'

Posted at 8:02 PM, Jan 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-16 23:17:23-05

ELKTON, Ohio — Ohio is home to only one federal prison — the Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton, about 90 miles from Cleveland.

It houses roughly 2,500 inmates, with about 400 staff members and correctional officers working around the clock — now on day 26 without a paycheck due to the partial government shutdown.

“We have a very stressful job here, we have staff that work anywhere between 8, 10, 12, 16-hour days,” said Joseph Mayle, president of AFGE-Local 607.

Mayle said the staff feels as though they are being used as poetical pawns as the stress levels continue to rise.

He said there hasn’t been an uptick in call-offs, however, adding that that is a testament to the workers dedication.

“They love their jobs,” Mayle said. “However, with that being said, just like any other American, they live paycheck to paycheck and they just want to be paid for the work they’ve performing. Dangerous work, stressful work.”

John Rice, a federal correctional officer, said the last 26 days have been frustrating, to say the least. He vividly remembers the last government shutdown and missed paycheck, but said this time feels worse.

“Before, both sides of the aisle they were talking, they were hashing things out, you had a sense that it wasn’t going to take that long,” Rice said. “But right now, you have the sense there is no communication on either side and we just don’t know how long it’s going to last.”

That uncertainty is what is most difficult, correctional officers said.

“I mean, I have a family I have to go to, I have to explain to my wife and them what’s going on, we’re questioned on all the time and we don’t have the answers,” said Kenneth Pittman. “I work a 10-hour a day job, I can’t go get another job to support my family. I’m working here.”

Pittman said he was also disappointed because much of the correctional staff is made up of veterans, and they feel ignored.

“It was supposed to be veterans first. We’re vets up there, a lot of us, majority of us. Seems like no one cares,” Pittman said.

Officers said they’ve had to make many changes in their lives to make up for the uncertainty, some even returning Christmas gifts to make ends meet.

News 5 received the following response from the Federal Bureau of Prisons when asked for information:

“Due to the partial government shutdown, responses to inquiries will be delayed.  We appreciate your patience during this time.”

But patience is wearing thin as the stress and bills pile high.

“I don’t think there is any citizen out there that believes that it’s OK to hurt another citizen to get what they want. I don’t believe there’s any citizen out there, regardless of what side you’re on, that thinks it is OK not to pay people for the work they’re performing,” Mayle said.