Another prison guard has been killed in the line of duty.
A corrections officer who had raised concerns about being the sole guard in the chapel of a Washington state prison was strangled there over the weekend, and an inmate serving a life sentence is the primary suspect, authorities said Sunday.
Jayme Biendl, 34, was found dead Saturday night in the chapel at Monroe Correctional Complex about 30 miles northeast of Seattle, Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said. She had been strangled with a microphone cord.
The inmate, Byron Scherf, 52, was reported missing during a routine count at 9:14 p.m. Saturday. He was found three minutes later in the chapel lobby and told officers he had planned to escape.
"He is our primary suspect," Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said.
. . .
Teamsters 117 spokeswoman Tracey Thompson said Sunday that the officer had complained to her union shop steward and prison supervisors about being the sole guard working in the chapel. She worried about being there alone without anyone checking on her, Thompson said.
Recent budget cuts have forced staffing reductions and union members have been worried about the impact of those reductions on safety, Thompson said.
"We have been pushing so hard on safety issues," Thompson said. "It makes me crazy that it took someone getting murdered inside a prison while doing their job for there to be attention on this work and how difficult and dangerous it can be."
There's more at the link.
As a former (retired) prison chaplain, I'm profoundly saddened to learn this news . . . and also very angry. The union spokesperson quoted above is absolutely correct. Across the country, budget cuts are placing corrections staff in greater danger from inmates. I hear about it from former colleagues on a regular basis. Some of them have been forced by their spouses to find a different line of work . . . and I don't blame their spouses at all!
The United States incarcerates a greater proportion of its population than any other nation on Earth - and then begrudges the money needed to safely confine them, with adequate staff to ensure their own security as well as that of society. This sort of tragedy is the result.
When will we learn that if you want to call the tune (i.e. incarcerate large numbers of people), you have to pay the piper (i.e. budget the necessary funds to keep them behind bars, and ensure the safety of those who keep them there)?
May Ms. Biendl rest in peace . . . and may this tragedy force all Americans to re-examine the reality of our prisons, financially and otherwise.