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Bureau of Prisons suffers severe shortage of officers, union says

Federal prison officers and their union representatives have warned for years of the dangers to employees—and the public—posed by ongoing understaffing at agency facilities. But in recent months, the situation has become more dire. 

Fully one-third of Federal Bureau of Prisons correctional officer jobs are now unfilled, according to a release from the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents thousands of BOP employees. The agency, in order to get by, is working existing officers excessively—with many facilities seeing “vast amounts of overtime” being taken and non-officer agency employees being pressed into corrections service. 

While there is no quick solution, the union does see some reasons for hope. First, its push for publicity about the problem has gained significant traction in the media. A recent Associated Press report on the staffing crisis “has been republished by nearly 600 outlets across the United States and abroad,” according to the union. Additionally, there has been significant support on Capitol Hill—for example from Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin (both, D-Ill.)—to pass provisions that would enable retention bonuses and other inducements to help hang on to desperately needed staff. 

And, the union adds, recent employee rallies and other protest events have brought additional media attention and continuing pressure on BOP leaders, as well as the Office of Personnel Management, to address the situation. 

Reader comments

Tue, Jun 15, 2021

Prisons are just another word for racketeering. Big business at any cost. Fix the Justice system.

Mon, Jun 14, 2021 SAMUEL GENTILE JR. USA

Every government agency has a severe shortage of personnel. As an example I finally just got my IRS refund from tax year 2019 and yes they did add a little bit of interest onto the check that they finally sent to me today June 14. Pay freezes in the past, along with federal budget problems resulting in federal employees going without paychecks for over a month, while being ordered to come to work, bad mouthing of federal employees by Trump and other politicians, changes in the bargaining rights and other causes have us at the point where good Qualified people no longer want to work for Uncle Sam.

Mon, Jun 14, 2021

Here's a thought and maybe better solution. Reduce the number of federal prisoners. Especially of those in for nonviolent drug possession and other nonviolent crimes. Fewer guards needed. Everybody wins.

Mon, Jun 14, 2021

Higher pay, better Union protection and benefits and maybe, just maybe, you may get some retention and new hires

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2021 Digital Almanac

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