Ray Brook, NY — A sign outside the federal prison in Ray Brook stands as a blunt warning: “Dangerously Understaffed…. Are you safe?’

The sign is the work of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3882, whose president, Darrell Pilon, said the prison is about 60 people short of being fully staff. That means guards and other staff have to work longer hours, raising safety concerns.

“We the union decided to put the sign up to attract attention to our low staffing. It is not to alarm the public,” Pilon said. “However we are dangerously low staffed.”

According to the Bureau of Prisons, last September, the inmate-to-guard ratio was average for a medium security federal prison in the Northeast — seven inmates for every guard. This year, Pilon said, with 71 guards and 914 inmates, the ratio is 13 to 1. Guards are often asked to stay an extra 8-hour shift — known as mandating — several times a week.

“It makes an environment that is generally dangerous more dangerous,” he said. “We’ve actually had staff members within a week period of time be mandated pretty much every day. In a two week pay period they were mandated 9 times out of 10.”

In a statement, the Bureau of Prisons says it is committed to ensuring adequate staffing to maintain the safety and security of staff and inmates. The Bureau has launched have external hiring efforts, as well as backfilling projected vacancies to maintain current staffing levels, the statement said. The state is also referral bonuses to attract more people to work at the prison.

Pilon dismisses the Bureau’s efforts, calling it a “deflection.”

“This has been going on since 2016,” he said. “It’s not only a local issue but a national issue. They have done nothing in the past year or two to help this place as far as attract staffing.”