Prisons Bureau: Alderson Safe for Martha

Although there are vacancies, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (search) says staffing levels are adequate at a West Virginia prison camp where Martha Stewart (search) will serve five months for lying to federal investigators and she will be safe there.

"Staffing levels are adequate to protect all offenders at that facility," said Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the agency. "We have always been able to accommodate high profile inmates adequately."

Billingsley denied on Tuesday that inmates are sometimes left unattended at Alderson Federal Prison Camp (search) in southeastern West Virginia, a claim made by the union that represents 26,000 federal prison employees nationwide.

"The inmates are never left unattended," she said.

The prison houses about 1,000 inmates.

"When you have 1,000 people, whether it's women or men, you have conflicts. If you don't have staff there, those conflicts will escalate, no matter where you are," said Phil Glover, national president of the Council of Prison Locals (search).

In the late 1990s, there were 60 correction officer positions at Alderson and now there are between 35 and 40, Glover said. Billingsley said there are currently 44 officers at the facility.

"They (Bureau of Prisons) are not going to say publicly they are understaffed," Glover said. "The administration will come down on them."

"They (Alderson) are down over 20 officers anyway you cut it," he said.

Billingsley said the vacancies are due to transfers to other institutions. She could not confirm how many positions are vacant at Alderson.

"There is always adequate number of staff to supervise the inmates," she said.

The union blames the Bush administration for budget cuts, which have reduced staffing levels to a 14-year low according to Glover.

The bureau's proposed budget for fiscal year 2005 would increase the agency's funding, but is about $139 million below what it had requested for salaries and expenses, according to Glover.

"Alderson is a minimum security camp and does not require the same type of supervision other institutions require," Billingsley said. "Within this institution, inmate supervision is also performed by detail supervisors, case managers, educational and recreational staff to name a few."

The union, which is part of the American Federation of Government Employees (search), plans to hold a news conference on Thursday in Charleston to discuss staffing and budget issues at Alderson and other federal prisons.

Stewart has until 2 p.m. Friday to report to Alderson to begin serving her sentence.

Billingsley said the bureau is currently interviewing candidates for correctional officer positions at Alderson and nationwide. She said the hiring was going on before it was announced Stewart would be going to Alderson.

Glover said the union is unaware of any hiring at prison camps.

"We have about 500 to 600 employees overseas in the reserves or on guard duty and those positions were not filled."