Bureau of Prisons Struggles With Staffing Shortages

Apr 11, 2016

bureau of prisons

According to a recent review by the Justice Department, the Bureau of Prisons is suffering from staffing shortages, particularly with medical professionals. This limits inmate access to medical care, and additionally impacts prison safety and security.

According to the report, as of September 2014, the Bureau of Prisons had 3,871 positions in its institution health services units to provide medical care to 171,868 inmates. Of those positions,only 3,215 (83 percent) were filled. Though the Bureau of Prisons’ policy requires the vacancy rate to not exceed 10 percent during any 18-month period, the review found that only 24 of 97 Bureau of Prisons institutions met this requirement. Furthermore, 12 institutions had a staffing rate at only 71 percent or below, which a former Bureau executive deemed to be at “crisis level.”

The report noted how a lack of medical services was attributed as a secondary cause of a prison riot at a Bureau of Prisons contract prison. According to the After-Action Report, the Bureau of Prisons noted that, though medical staffing shortages did not cause the riot directly, it affected security and health services functions.

Challenges in Recruiting and Retaining Medical Professionals

Auditors found that multiple factors contribute to the agency’s struggle to recruit and retain medical professionals, including a significant pay cut compared to equivalent positions in the private sector. For example, the average pharmacist salary in communities where BOP institutions are located is approximately double what the BOP can offer mid-level pharmacists under the GS system. The review also found that physicians are paid at least 55 percent more in the private sector, and dentists are paid at lease 112 percent more outside of the federal government.

According to the report, prison officials have increasingly offered available incentives above the government’s pay schedule to attract needed professionals, but the approval process for such offers is “laborious, time-consuming and requires extensive knowledge that not all institution staff members possess.”

The report concluded that the Bureau of Prisons should use available data to assess and prioritize medical vacancies based on their impact on the Bureau’s operations. Auditors also recommended the Bureau of Prisons develop strategies to better utilize Public Health Service officers to address the medical vacancies of greatest consequence, including the use of incentives, assignment flexibilities and temporary duty.

At Harris Federal, we frequently assist federal workers who are employed by the Bureau of Prisons with their federal disability retirement claim. If you or someone you know can no longer do your job because of a medical condition, you may qualify for federal disability retirement. Call us today for a free consultation at (877) 226-2723 or fill out an INQUIRY FORM. We look forward to speaking with you!

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