While the title of this article sounds unrealistic, most of it is simply unchallengeable. I have often remarked how the BOP is a quasi-militaristic organization susceptible to rather quick change via the chain of command. While the formal guidance to broaden existing policy application is needed via changes notices, operations memoranda and policy updates, the BOP director can immediately issue internal guidance in the following areas that will have a profound impact on agency operations, accountability and somewhat restore a severely damaged perception within the justice community:
Administrative Remedy Procedures :
Allow informal and formal administrative remedies to be filed on the Trulinks computer system.
Incarcerated people have had the ability to submit requests within this system for years, so allowing the process to be initiated electronically would ensure less obstruction, greater accountability and responsiveness. Did I mention the BOP still issues carbonated forms for the formal complaint process and does not include these forms on their website with hundreds of other numbered BOP forms. Think about that concept and the only logical reasons for it!
I list this issue first because it is the first step in due process for eventual access to the courts on every prison related issue. The BOP administrative remedy process is systemically broken, and the dysfunction starts from the very beginning when people beg for the carbonated (BP-229) form to file a formal complaint only to be told verbally they are required to attempt informally resolution first. While that sounds logical, it is the obstructionist practices and timeliness of obtaining the locally created form which can only be issued by the counselor who may or may not be in for days. After never receiving a response, people are often told “it was never received.” Then there are the vague responses often not even policy compliant that are provided to hope the issue ends there as it often does. Keep in mind, the clock starts running from day one and remedies are often denied for “timeliness.” If the process could be tracked in the computer from the very beginning, timely and more policy compliant answers would be given resulting in a timelier process to access a higher review authority and eventually the courts. I also argue that many complaints would be informally resolved at the person’s benefit if this process started with this accountability.
True stories & context: People are often placed in isolation in the special housing unit (SHU). They immediately ask for a complaint form only to be told they can only be issued by the counselor. After begging for days, the counselor appears and says they will bring it next time they are visiting SHU. The following week a person is handed a locally generated form which they allege must be completed prior to the formal process. As the person attempts to complete the form with a blunt tipped pencil, they ask the officer to go to the law library for BOP policy research and are told they will be put on the list for the SHU computer room because there is only one terminal for the entire unit. Many times, the computer is inoperable to a broken keyboard etc., and that has a zero priority as far as getting it replaced. After the informal resolution is submitted, it is either denied, lost, no response, etc. The complaint is eventually resolved with the rejection of the formal BP-229 complaint because the person failed to file it in a timely manner! This scenario has been playing itself out for decades!
Classification meetings (program reviews) to be completed in accordance with policy:
I almost listed this first as it is extremely profound. The gradual breakdown of correctional treatment relationships over the past few decades has made institutions and communities less safe. Rehabilitation starts with treatment and professional treatment relationships foster program participation and intelligence to keep facilities safe. When staff know their caseload and personal background, the interaction at program reviews builds trust. People want to live in safe environments but the practice of sign the paper and move along within a few minutes destroys trust and treatment relationships in general. If you read the BOP policy on initial classification and program reviews, you would envision a multi-disciplinary staffing of a unit manager, counselor, case manager, education representative and sometimes even a psychologist all sitting around a table providing feedback to the person regarding a comprehensive treatment plan. This unit team concept has evolved into a joke and the BOP hierarch has their head in the sand.
The Director could issue an internal memo requiring staff to attend every program review and/or initial classification meeting and they should be required to last at least 15 minutes! The unit team concept is fundamental to BOP operations and rehabilitation. It simply no longer exists as the policy stipulates which is a total breakdown of management oversight at all levels.
Hire more treatment staff directly from the community:
A targeted percentage of counselors, case managers and other treatment professionals should be hired directly from the community. While there is no prohibition to hiring directly from the community, it is rare. Unfortunately, that fosters the promoting of many correctional officer-oriented staff chasing a paycheck but are void of the desire to develop correctional treatment relationships. Treatment professionals in the community are apprehensive to apply for correctional officer positions due not only to the stigma, but the concept of taking a step backwards in their career development. I was a probation and parole officer when I applied a case manager position and was told I had almost a zero change to apply for an officer position. I was hired as an officer but could have started at the agency directly as a case manager at a much higher pay rate. Many community treatment-oriented professionals will simply not be attracted to the agency which hurts recruiting efforts.
Use central office staff to answer all public inquires and coordinate legal calls via existing national locator number
It is simply unacceptable to have convoluted telephone system procedures where most of the time staff do not even answer the telephone. When staff are eventually reached, they are often met with unprofessional and unresponsive answers to questions and the assistance in reaching the intended party. The inconsistency in telephone procedures and indifference to legal communication creates animosity towards the agency from the legal community and fosters the perception of indifference. Most of the legal community is unaware that a seamless, regimented and policy-based system for attorney communication was implemented in the witness protection program several decades ago which allows for government witnesses to communicate with agents, prosecutors and their attorneys. This same system should be implemented immediately in every facility because government witness legal issues are no more important than the average incarcerated person. The centralized national locator number could be staffed with trained operators to release public information, locate the requested staff and coordinate legal calls without the burdening of institution staff. In this age of technology, correctional officers in a control center and correctional systems staff in the records office should not be burdened with such duties.
There are many more, practical, quick fix solutions to solve the most common BOP problems but I will save them for a future blog.