• Concerns growing as government shutdown forces federal prison employees to go without pay

    By: Winnie Wright


    The partial government shutdown’s effects are beginning to grow, as we prepare to enter week three. 

    One of the groups preparing for impact, the federal prison system. 

    Beginning Friday, federal corrections workers will be dealt the horrible decision of working without pay or finding another way to take care of their families.

    Leaving the security of the prisons and the safety of surrounding areas a concern for many.

    “When you’re talking about a town the size of Forrest City, it does have a direct impact,” Forrest City Mayor Cedric Williams told FOX13. 

    He became mayor the same week the government shutdown went into effect. The rural city in the heart of the Delta is home to a federal corrections complex.

    “You have hard core killers, drug dealers, kingpins in the federal prison system. We need protecting them from us and us from them,” said Forrest City Resident Ozell Hudson.

    And 550 of its 14,000 residents work there. Beginning Friday those employees will work without pay.

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    “A lot of things you don’t even think of churches, shelters, different things such as that. It impacts our entire community in a negative way,” Williams said.

    Another federal agency, the TSA, is currently plagued with “sick-outs,” or people calling in sick, rather than working for free. 

    Many of them are picking up odd-jobs to fill the void. As of late, Williams said he hasn’t heard of that happening in Forrest City.

    “If it came to a security concern where our citizens were put in jeopardy, I’m sure they would notify us and we would take the necessary procedures from a local standpoint, with our local police officers, to make sure our citizens are safe,” Williams said. 

    He added The National Guard may be an option if situations become dire.

    We reached out to The U.S. Attorney’s Office to see how they would handle any security threats if they were to arise. Because the National Guard is also working without pay. 

    We were told they can’t comment at this time.

    “Who gonna watch?” Hudson asked. “They walk around free on the inside, what makes you think they can’t jump the fence if there’s nobody in there with the lock. You’ve got the upper echelon. They’re making sure they get paid. Congress is getting their money.” 

    Pierre Evans runs DeltaQ, a restaurant in the city’s downtown.

    With the prison only about two miles from the city center, he said security is a major concern. 

    “Those guys, men and women in prison, they’re not idiots. They’re constantly looking for opportunities, whether it’s to get out, or whatever it may be. If they see a crack in the armor, they’re going to be thinking about it,” said Evans.

    Another concern for those in Forrest City: the potential impact on the local economy.

    “My family got to eat. I got to feed my wife and kids. If I can’t make money on this job, I need to find another job,” Hudson said.

    You can’t throw a stone in Forrest City without hitting someone affected by the government shutdown.

    “Being right here in the Delta, we are dependent on government money flowing through the system,” Evans said, adding many in this area are reliant upon government benefits and subsidies. 

    He worries if the Department of Justice employees that frequent his restaurant are forced to go without pay, things like lunches in restaurants will be one of the first things to go, hurting his bottom line. 

    “You hear the government saying ‘oh, they’ve got backup’, well many people live paycheck to paycheck. No matter what,” Evans said.

    Hudson said he doesn’t blame Congress, instead placing the blame squarely on the president’s shoulders. 

    Speaking directly to President Trump he said, “You just confiscated $15 billion from this drug king pin.

    Build the wall with his money. Why do you have to have the United States citizens do it? You were talking about making Mexico do it. He’s a Mexican, make him pay.”

    Williams said he hasn’t’ heard from Washington since taking office but has been urging DOJ employees to call their representatives. 

    We reached out to Congressman Rick Crawford’s Office, but have not heard back. 

    The area’s State Representative, Steve Hollowell, told FOX13 he would be in Little Rock Wednesday, but would send us a statement. We never heard back.

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