Crumbling buildings, inadequate sanitation and fire safety and overcrowding at the Fayette County, Pa. Prison are putting corrections officers along with inmates at risk, according to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International Union, which has filed a complaint with the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division.

A "scar" on the commission's reputation

UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said the fact that the prison is still in use is a gross disservice to the people of Fayette County and a scar on the reputation of the Fayette County Commission,” Roberts said.

Roberts said the union has been “pleading” with the Commission for years to correct problems at the prison, with no results and no response.

Vietnam combat, coal mines

“This facility is dangerous to the people who are incarcerated there, the people who work there and the entire community,” Roberts said. “I served in combat in Vietnam, and I worked miles underground in a coal mine. I have rarely been in a place that made me more concerned about my personal safety and the safety of those around me than when I toured the Fayette County prison last year.

The suit points out inadequate sanitation; crumbling, unrepaired and unsafe infrastructure, inadequate fire safety infrastructure and overcrowding.

“They will have to respond to the Department of Justice now,” Roberts said. “This is serious business, and the Fayette County Commission has frankly refused to do its job on behalf of the people they represent. They have refused to address the very real safety concerns of the corrections officers who are charged with maintaining order in the prison.

Cruel and unusual punishment?

“And I’m not a person who believes in coddling prisoners, but the conditions in that facility violate the Eighth Amendment of the constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment,” Roberts said.

The UMWA wants the DOJ to undertake its own investigation of the facility to determine whether or not conditions in the prison violate the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The Union is also asking the DOJ to require the Fayette County Commission to “either adopt policies and take action to remedy the deficiencies at the jail and any further constitutional violations uncovered by DOJ’s investigation or to begin the process of planning for and constructing a facility to replace the jail.”