Last week, for the third time in a year, union workers in a San Diego jail began receiving dismissal notices. They work for her West Region Detention Store in downtown San Diego, a 770-bed medium-sized prison operating on his behalf US Army Service.
In recent months, the WRDF, as it is known, has become a hotbed for the issue of private prisons. Unfounded allegations of unsafe prison conditions and false accusations against staff are just the latest weapons used by those seeking to eliminate private prisons for their own political purposes, regardless of the material negative impact it would have on communities. of Southern California.
After President Biden issued an executive order in early 2021 terminating some federal contracts with private jail companies, WRDF employees received the first notice of dismissal. Six months later, they got a second.
The WRDF received a moratorium on closure in both cases largely because there is no public detention facility nearby that can accommodate detainees there, and the alternative plan – to transfer detainees from the high desert north of Los Angeles to and from San Diego where they will not be able to see their families and legal counsel – has come under fire for violating fundamental rights to a fair trial. Even with no viable option other than WRDF, closing the installation is back on the table, along with untruths about how the installation works.
The facility brings in $ 30 million in direct financial activity in San Diego each year and is one of the highest paid employers in the area – paying more than $ 8 an hour more than the average local salary. Of the 254-member workforce, 229 are under-represented minorities. A closure would be financially disastrous for these workers, their families and communities across the region.
As the leader of the union that represents the majority of WRDF employees, I sent a letter to President Biden informing him that closing the facility would have a significant negative impact on public safety in the area. This position was acknowledged in a note drawn up by the Biden administration’s US General Staff. It is also the same warning issued by the former San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore last year.
Opponents of private prisons have falsely claimed that private facilities endanger the lives of detainees, forcing them to live in miserable conditions and serving them inedible food. As far as the WRDF is concerned, these allegations are simply not valid. In fact, the facility has an excellent record of security checks and the biggest complaint about food is that due to its high quality, inmates want more than that.
These inaccurate criticisms are designed to provoke anger in the pursuit of a political goal. I extend an open invitation to any civil servant – before you misjudge the WRDF or its dedicated employees – to visit the facility yourself. I did, and it changed my mind about the discussion about private detention centers, especially in Southern California.
The fact is that the WRDF is essential to the criminal justice system in Southern California. For decades, insufficient investment in public prisons has led to a corresponding lack of public facilities to secure the detention of those awaiting trial.
In Southern California, the public locker room is already operating at or near capacity. In addition, the U.S. Army Service is not legally permitted to operate its own facilities, so it must rely on partners to assist in carrying out its mission.
In fact, there is nothing controversial about the WRDF or its staff, despite the baseless allegations made by its overly zealous opponents. These workers and the people of Southern California deserve better. It is time to stop the fake attacks and recognize the crucial and overwhelmingly positive role that WRDF plays in the community.
Randy Erwin is its chairman National Federation of Federal Employeesa union representing employees at the Western District Detention Center in downtown San Diego.
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