February 2022, Austin, TX –  Right On Crime, a national conservative criminal justice reform campaign of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, released a new study that raises the alarm on staffing issues inside federal prisons and proposes a strong case for legislative reform and oversight in Addressing Staffing Challenges in Federal Prisons.

The Federal  Bureau of Prisons (BOP) directly manages 122 facilities and employs more than 37,000 staff members collectively responsible for more than 153,000 individuals in federal custody. Maintaining adequate staffing levels at BOP is no small feat, with recruitment and retention suffering from a host of challenges, including a relatively unpleasant work environment and low pay as well as the regular use of mandatory overtime and augmentation—a policy requiring non-correctional officer employees to assume correctional officer shifts. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing national labor shortage only exacerbating staffing issues at BOP, ensuring that federal prisons have the staff they need is only getting more difficult.

“The current situation is being called a “crisis” by a variety of stakeholders… As BOP prepares to welcome new leadership, it’s more important than ever for policymakers to prioritize addressing BOP’s staffing challenges so that a new Director can oversee a more transparent and effective BOP.”

Right On Crime National Director, Lars Trautman.

In January, the BOP announced that Director Michael Carvajal will be resigning. With the significant consequences of staffing shortages, staffing challenges readily identifiable, and relevant data unavailable, this new study underscores why new leadership and policymakers are right to focus on staffing challenges at federal prisons.

“The consequences of the BOP’s long-standing lack of accountability and transparency reverberates inside prison walls and outside to our communities… Conservatives must hold the government accountable- especially the criminal justice system.”

Brett Tolman, Executive Director of Right On Crime and former U.S. Attorney.

The new study, Addressing Staffing Challenges in Federal Prisons, suggests BOP do a better job of quantifying and detailing any staffing shortages to determine facility needs more accurately. It further outlines potential steps that policymakers can take to improve the staffing picture at BOP and ensure that it is able to stay adequately staffed in the future.

Key Points

  • Internal stakeholders and external observers have publicly raised the alarm that BOP is in the midst of a staffing crisis, which is especially acute for correctional officers.
  • Although a host of staffing challenges at BOP are readily identifiable, a lack of publicly available data makes it impossible to determine the exact extent of any staff shortfall.
  • A staff shortfall at BOP could degrade facility safety, increase employee burnout and health risks, and impair inmate rehabilitation efforts.
  • Any effort to bolster BOP staffing should begin with a more comprehensive, public accounting of BOP staffing needs and resources.