WASHINGTON – The head of the union council representing 30,000 federal corrections professionals nationwide told a Senate panel Thursday that staffing cuts at the Federal Bureau of Prisons have degraded working conditions inside federal prisons and precipitated increased violence and assaults against correctional officers and inmates.
“It is no secret that the Bureau of Prisons is in the midst of a staffing crisis of epic proportions,” American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals National President Shane Fausey said in prepared testimony delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Currently there are about 35,000 active employees in the Bureau of Prisons, down sharply from the 43,369 positions authorized in January 2016. BOP lost 3,000 employees to retirement in 2021 – a new record – and is on track to lose another 3,000 employees by the end of this year.
“The chronic understaffing of this agency has led to an unprecedented exodus, effectively wiping out all the record hiring efforts of mid-2021,” Fausey said.
The Justice Department’s proposed budget would allow the Bureau of Prisons to hire an additional 1,300 correctional officers and First Step Act positions in fiscal 2023. While this is a good step in the right direction, Fausey said the agency urgently needs additional funds to hire up to the staffing level authorized in January 2016.
In addition, Fausey called on the Biden administration under Attorney General Merrick Garland and newly appointed Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters to restructure pay bands for correctional officers and staff so the agency can better compete for talent and to approve an agencywide retention incentive for all primary law enforcement employees who are retirement eligible to curb the loss of experienced staff.
“The dedicated and loyal employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons have long prided themselves at accomplishing the missions given to them. They have been pushed beyond the breaking point and deserve much needed relief,” Fausey said.
Committee Chair Dick Durbin thanked Fausey for addressing the false narrative presented in the media that most corrections officers and staff are corrupt, when the rate of reported misconduct by employees over the past three years amounts to just 0.28% of all BOP employees. Both Durbin and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey acknowledged the challenging and dangerous nature of being a corrections officer and the difficulty of recruiting employees.
Fausey also spoke in favor of the Federal Prison Oversight Act, introduced Wednesday by Sens. Jon Ossoff of Georgia, Mike Braun of Indiana, and Dick Durbin of Illinois. The legislation would provide an additional layer of oversight focused on ensuring the safety of federal correctional officers and staff and improving their working conditions, he said.
AFGE’s Council of Prison Locals is the exclusive representative for all bargaining unit positions in the Bureau of Prisons, currently representing 30,000 corrections professionals nationwide.