The siren song for the transparency, accountability and oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has reached another fever pitch set off by a bit of transparency and attention during the pandemic. Recently, Senators Jon Ossoff and Michael Braun launched a bi-partisan working focusing on the agency’s implosion which compliments the efforts of “The BOP Reform Caucus” who met with Director Carvajal for the first time late last year. Prison reform is not rocket science so here are seven reforms which can be initiated almost immediately under the existing policy and statutory framework, provided the new director is chosen from outside the agency and is allowed to bring support staff to have their back. So, without further ado……………….
Allow upward mobility to qualified leaders without mandating mobility. The BOP “F up, move up” cycle can be broken by picking the best candidate for management related jobs based on leadership not geographic mobility. The agency frequently promotes both upper and lower-level management at an enormous moving expense to the taxpayers for relocation companies to buy their homes, “house hunting” trips to the new destination (i.e.: free staff vacations in search of a new residence) and they even pay for temporary hotel quarters at the new location. By some conservative estimates, the total relocation costs for a single move are over $50,000. The current administration is infamous for frequently moving less qualified, “yes” people who follow their superiors hanging on to that proverbial coat tail while staff referred to as “homesteaders” with greater leadership abilities are penalized and restricted to the GS-12 level at best.
Set minimum education standards for higher level executives. A case manager must have a college degree and it is even difficult to obtain a federal probation officer job without an advanced degree; yet a person can be promoted to warden with only a GED. I mean no disrespect to people without degrees, but virtually every professional organization sets some type of minimum educational standard for senior executives. The analogy I hear often used is that the agency has a disproportionate number of blue-collar workers in white collar jobs. The results are evident in the current implosion.
Place an emphasis on hiring treatment staff such as case managers and counselors directly from the community. While this is currently allowed within federal hiring practices, it is seldom done. The standard practice of only promoting correctional officers to professional treatment positions inhibits a diverse, treatment-oriented culture. Hiring professionals from the community will also help with the staffing crisis the agency has experienced for decades while allowing the most qualified and treatment-oriented staff to deliver services rather than the incapacity-oriented correctional officers primarily seeking to work a daytime job, collect a larger paycheck while increasing their retirement benefit.
Close all six regional offices and allocate the resources for correctional officer and treatment positions working directly in the trenches of the system. The regional offices provide the facilities with limited support and services as represented. They operate like six separate bureaucracies that lead to inconsistent policy application and duplication of effort. At one time, the regional offices processed inmate designations, performed facility audits, and provided frequent training and assistance which are now administer by other agency entities. We pay SES Regional Directors close to two hundred thousand dollars annually plus they have an administrative entourage also with exorbitant salaries and they do not even work within a prison. In this age of technology, regional offices are obsolete, and operations can be performed out of the D.C. central office location. General Mark Inch, who was an outsider, appointed as the Director intended closing several regional offices but resigned abruptly after experiencing the agency culture.
Restore the progressive practices and treatment emphasis the agency had prior to the Sentencing Reform Act. During that period, the BOP was emulated by correctional agencies and had practices such as “work release,” “study release,” etc. I remember transferring people up to eighteen months prior to release to “Urban Work Cadres” that operated around the country performing functions to support other federal agencies. We routinely placed low risk people directly on home detention even back in early 1990’s. Social, program and emergency furloughs were far more common than today and were even afforded to people with a medium security classification. There is nothing prohibiting the BOP from operating work and study release programs from their facilities even today based on the applicable policies. Staff/offender classification meetings required the in-person attendance of a psychologist, education representative, case manager, counselor and unit manager. This process has become a watered-down exercise where a person walks in the door, signs a paper and leaves. The original intent of unit management was designed to sub-divide large prison populations to small caseloads identify, encourage and track program participation based on the individual criminogenic factors of the individual. Adherence to these practices as intended will re-establish professional treatment relationships and result in safer facilities and communities. The current agency’s primary focus on incapacitation as recently emphasized by the director appearing before a house subcommittee, demonstrates the short-sightedness of the agency which is archaic and results in more dangerous facilities for staff and the incarcerated.
Establish a pilot program with the AOUSC by a memorandum of understanding to rotate senior federal probation officers into every federal prison for a full-time, on-site presence. This will foster a more seamless re-entry, better communications, transparency and accountability.
THE HOLY GRAIL
It is troubling the agency is not adhering to human rights standards, is rampant with staff corruption and incompetence at the highest levels and has thrown the hard-working rank and file under the bus. Staff working directly with incarcerated PEOPLE are demanding leadership, accountability and resources to carry out the difficult mission where security and treatment receive equal footing. This can be legislatively accomplished by the creation of an independent oversight entity such as an ombudsman. Regulatory agencies already exist in several state correctional systems, and it is time once again for the federal system to lead and not follow. An ombudsman office can also foster communication exacerbated this call to a fever pitch both for advocates and legislators. Below are six steps of corrective action which can be done under the existing statutory framework and one legislative initiative already being, training and conflict resolution resulting in less litigation and address issues identified by legislators, stakeholders and the prison population. It is time the BOP is held accountable to the public aside from the theatre one witnesses within the various house and senate hearings.