BOP staffing problems roll on and on

The IG report goes on and on, but the theme is clear. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has an important operational short-fill it's got to fix.

The Justice Department operates an inconsistent Bureau of Prisons (BOP). It operates short staffed in facilities with a billion dollars in repair backlogs. The yet-to-be-realized version has a glowing future under Director Collette Peters’ new plan for rebuilding the agency.

One BOP envisions an enthusiastic, properly-paid workforce applying the most contemporary and humane practices to the AICs, adults in custody. The other BOP has such shoddy procedures it sparks a management alert from the DOJ inspector general. The IG report says correctional officers failed to make mandatory inspection rounds of a special housing unit. Badly-behaving, sometimes dangerous inmates get moved to the blandly-named SHUs. They dwell separated from the rest of the prison population. Corrections officers say that leads to inmate suicides.

According to the IG report: One SHU inmate killed another. Then the correctional officers falsified the paper logs to make it look as if they’d made the required rounds. They photocopied the logs, put the copies in the logbooks, then shredded the originals. That “complicated potential criminal prosecution of the COs.” The report didn’t name the prison where this occurred.

The IG further charges BOP itself with not having procedures for records retention that reflect federal law.  Procedures vary widely from prison to prison. The report goes on and on, but the theme is clear. BOP has an important operational short-fill it’s got to fix.

The Bureau agreed, but the response letter of BOP Director Collette Peters seemed a tad churlish. It leads with this:

“At the outset, FBOP notes that the root cause of issues addressed in this MAM relate primarily to employee misconduct… This fact pattern reflects a failure to follow FBOP’s longstanding policies, regulations, and/or laws. While the misconduct described in this MAM is troubling, the appropriate redress is to hold such persons accountable so as to alert and deter others.”

She’s correct, but why lead with that? She concurred with the recommendations the IG made. In fact has started to make changes.

But, beyond this specific incident, Peters risks losing the faith of the very workforce she needs to rebuild. Corrections officers continue to work double shifts, abetted by what BOP calls “augmentation.” To augment a shortage of officers, facility managers assign medical staff members, cooks, and librarians into shifts overseeing inmates.

A recent removal of a 25 percent retention at one facility pay boost didn’t help matters. That occurred at the Thomson, Illinois prison that went from maximum security to minimum. Aaron McGlothin, the president of the local representing employees at the Mendota, California medium security facility, worries where else it might go away.

McGlothin said his own facility is 40 to 50 COs short. He said he and others regularly do 16-hour shifts. Augmentation staff regularly cover shifts in a place where violence occurs daily, he said. He added that he and colleagues across the country just want what he described as an 8,000 officer shortfall eliminated. BOP has only 13,000 billets out of 21,000 authorized, actually filled, McGLothin said.

At Thomson, according to its local union president, Jon Zumkehr, 111 positions are unfilled, with 18 about to leave and two resigning this week. He said that since changing designations, Thomson has received 1,000 more inmates than when it was maximum security.

In a video released last week about her “transformational framework” for BOP, Peters said outright to the line staff: “We know you are exhausted and riveted with overtime and augmentation.” She promised a “laser focus” on what she called a staffing crisis. She said salaries are up by $2,000, and that the BOP will try to “meet market salaries” for health services.” Peters added, “Recruitment, relocation and retention incentives are in place across this nation.”

The officers might say, except where they have been curtailed.

Peters also acknowledged “that our buildings are in disrepair,” noting that Congress has upped the level of maintenance and repair funding from $100 million to $180 million. But the backlog, Peters said, amounts to $3 billion.

The strategic framework calls for many steps, including

  • Improved mental health services
  • “Optimized” use of restrictive housing.
  • An external review by the National Institute of Justice (which is part of the Justice Department).
  • Better recruitment training.
  • More reliance on data and research in policy making.

Peters says near the end, “But building the framework is not nearly enough. We need action.”

McGlothin said the correctional officers are doubting whether Peters can improve things. Yet they agree on one thing, namely that the bureau must find a way to get to full staffing and stay there.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By: Michele Sandiford

The first federal women’s reformatory (prison) opened in 1927 in Alderson, West Virginia.


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