According to government records and documents, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons paid more than $2 million in bonuses to top executives and wardens during the past three years. This comes during a time when the agency is dealing with persistent overcrowding, sub-par inmate medical care, chronic staffing shortages and a sexual harassment lawsuit at its largest institution.
The bulk of the payments, close to $1 million, were approved in 2016 and amounted to almost double the combined amounts the previous years. Many of the agency’s top execs who received payments last year also received similar awards in 2015. Among them were four execs who held leadership roles at the agency’s largest complex, amidst a sexual harassment lawsuit.
A $20 million settlement of legal action is currently pending before a federal judge.
Sandra Parr, VP of the national union of prison workers said, “These people get bonuses off the backs of people who were actually dealing with the predators.” She went on to say that the pool of victims grew so large because top agency officials “chose to ignore it”.
Bureau spokesman Justin Long acknowledged the bonus payments, saying the awards were authorized under OPM guidelines.
The timing of the million dollar payments come while the bureau operations have been the focus of critical examinations by the Justice Department’s Inspector General for more than a year. In 2016, the IG found prison authorities were struggling to provide proper medical care to thousands of inmates because of persistent staffing shortages. These problems left some institutions with vacancy rates of 40 percent or higher. A former BOP official told government auditors that medical staffing vacancies had reached “crisis level” at some facilities. This official also said the agency had been increasingly unable to compete with the private sector in recruiting medical professionals to provide necessary healthcare.
The staffing shortages, according to a USA TODAY report, are forcing nurses, physical therapists, and other senior medical staffers to fill gaps on guard duty and other security related shifts. Many reassigned medical staffers are being drawn from the U.S. Public Health Service and have little or no experience providing security in the overcrowded federal system. The agency acknowledges this and calls it “augmentation”, saying that “adequately staffing custody posts is critical”.
Last month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration criticized prison conditions in Miami, recommending a “hazard alert” notice saying incidents of violence had been prevalent during contraband searches of inmates who were under the influence of illegal drugs.
Joe Rojas, a local union official who has battled with prison administrators on work conditions, says there is “no doubt” that top leaders at the prison knew about the sexually-charged environment, including those awarded bonuses equaling over 2 million for their work.
“They were aware of the information and they chose to ignore it,” he said. “These guys got bonuses like clockwork and there is no justification for it.”