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October 10, 2022

"Three steps to setting federal prisons on the right path"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Hill commentary authored by Hugh Hurwitz, who served as Acting Director of the US Bureau of Prisons during the Trump Administration.  Here are excerpts:

The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) mission is to safely and securely confine offenders and assist them in becoming law-abiding citizens.  By most media accounts, the BOP is failing in this mission.  Members of Congress have described the agency as “crisis plagued.”  BOP’s recent history includes allegations of sexual assault against inmates and female staff at several institutions, staff misconduct and discipline issues at all levels of the agency, serious staffing shortages, and failures to implement policies under the three-year-old First Step Act (FSA).

New Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Colette Peters recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Director Peters undoubtedly has a big job ahead of her.  Until recently, BOP had long been a model of quality and consistency, but has lacked permanent, consistent leadership for years.  Peters is the seventh director/acting director in seven years.

Senate committee members, other members of Congress, DOJ leadership, and many stakeholders, all are pushing Peters to do more.  Most changes and priorities will require the right resources in people, time, and money.  To reverse these trends and restore BOP’s place as the premier correctional agency in the world, Peters will need to be allowed to initially focus on three important areas.  Succeeding in these areas will open the doors to making many of the other changes she and others wish to achieve.

First, focus on the staff. Peters is known to care greatly about staff; it has been a focal point through her career in Oregon. BOP must work to fill many vacant jobs. Easier said than done, as recruiting people to work inside prison is a challenge for all correctional systems....

Second, begin to address BOP infrastructure. Inmates and staff need safe, well-maintained prisons.  Peters testified that BOP’s infrastructure is in such bad shape that they need to prioritize the life/safety issues and let other needs go unmet.  She noted that BOP has over $2 billion of structural needs and repairs, but their annual appropriation is under $100 million.  Obviously, this is unsustainable.  At the same time, BOP’s population is down to about 158,000 people from the peak of nearly 220,000.  COVID and the CARES Act showed that we can safely put more people in home confinement and halfway houses without increasing crime.  As the BOP continues to implement the FSA, it will continue to move more low risk people to community confinement or supervision, and out of prison.....

Finally, demonstrate a commitment to fully implementing the FSA, which was the culmination of years of bipartisan effort and the first major criminal justice reform legislation in a generation.  When fully implemented, the FSA reduces overly lengthy prison sentences and better prepares inmates to successfully reenter society.  Efforts to fully implement the FSA have been hampered by the pandemic, staffing shortages, and failed policy implementation.  Director Peters can’t repair all this overnight, but she needs to demonstrate to Congress, BOP staff, and all stakeholders, that implementation of this significant legislation is on the top of her list....

If Peters is given the help and resources to resolve the staffing challenges and improve the infrastructure, she will have the staff and resources needed to fully implement the FSA, increased capacity to provide mental health treatment, medical care, education, and job training — and to ensure that the 95 percent of BOP population that are returning to our communities will be good neighbors that we can all be proud of.

October 10, 2022 at 10:52 AM | Permalink


I look forward to Hugh Hurwitz's next essay: "How Not To Let Jeffrey Epstein Kill Himself In Your Prison."

Posted by: AFPD | Oct 10, 2022 10:39:04 PM

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