Vermontville, NY — After putting up a sign warning of a dangerously understaffed prison in Ray Brook, the American Federation of Government Employees union was told by the Town of North Elba law enforcement that they needed to take the sign down.

Now, the sign is being temporarily hung up at Kate Mountain Park in Vermontville, but Union President Darrell Pilon isn’t giving up yet. “The Bureau of Prisons has to act now, they can’t just keep sweeping it under the rug.”

Pilon says the staffing issue hasn’t gotten better at Ray Brook, and a recently planned power outage in the area exposed other issues.

“We’ve been having issues with the generators, we’ve submitted projects for it, to try to get the funding to fix it to where it needs to be, and the Bureau has kind of pushed it to the wayside and when we went to generator power it didn’t work,” said James Davis, an electrician. 

The staffing shortages have made it so workers not hired to be correctional officers have to fill in and cover shifts due to the lack of officers, a practice the prison is not supposed to rely on.

Those hired to be electricians, cooks, or nurses still have to go through the Academy so they are trained as an officer, but Davis said it is preventing him from doing his work. “My first year there I had to fill in as an officer twice. Right now, every quarter I have to do three weeks of it.” That means Davis has to spend one week a month as an officer and not as an electrician.

Pilon said it has caused tension among employees.

Support for prison work has drawn the attention of the two candidates in the 21st District Congressional race. Pilon recently met with Democrat Matt Castelli.

Castelli said it was important for him to hear their concerns. “To elevate those issues with the department of justice, directly with the Bureau of Prisons, this is an issue they need to address, and I would elevate those concerns directly and have them addressed.”

Pilon tells us he met with a representative from Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s office earlier this year.

Stefanik Senior Advisor Alex DeGrasse sent us a statement saying “Congresswoman Stefanik has been one of the most effective advocates for law enforcement, including correctional officers and their families,  particularly during the height of Covid when she successfully fought to ensure they could use PPE, and receive back pay. Congresswoman Stefanik was in daily contact with families directly impacted by COVID. She is working to ensure that that correctional officers at Ray Brook have a significant increase in staffing to ensure increased safety for the officers and workforce.”

This article has been updated to include a statement from Rep. Elise Stefanik’s senior advisor. It also adds clarification of a meeting earlier this year involving Union President Darrell Pilon and a district representative from Rep. Stefanik’s Plattsburgh office.