In twin developments as the Trump administration developed its new budget proposal, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) told federal prison officials to prepare for across-the-board reductions in authorized staffing levels of nearly 12 percent, and ordered them to identify inmates now in federally-run facilities who could be transferred to privately-run prisons.
On Jan. 24 BOP informed its facility directors the agency would make nationwide reductions of 11.95 percent in currently available staff positions. BOP plans to eliminate 6,100 vacant positions this year, followed by another 1,000 next year. The reductions will total close to a 14 percent nationwide reduction in staff authorized for BOP institutions.
While Federal employee unions are lobbying Congress to oppose the reductions, a BOP representative responded to local press questions from locations near federal prisons about the safety impact of the changes by voicing the belief that reducing authorized positions “will not have a negative impact on public safety.”
The administration budget proposal says BOP will realize more than $122 million by cutting authorized positions “to historical inmate-to-staff ratios,” plus shutting two regional offices and two stand-alone minimum-security prison camps. The proposed budget would add over $10 million for a BOP apprentice training program, created as part of a presidential executive order intended to promote career and technical training that will prepare inmates for post-release employment.
Under the Trump administration’s new budget proposal for fiscal year 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) would see the smallest decrease of any Cabinet agency for which lower funding is being sought. The DOJ’s budget for 2017 was $28.4 billion, which under the proposed fiscal 2019 budget would decline by about 1.3 percent to $28 billion. The DOJ budget for the current fiscal 2018 is estimated to be only slightly higher, at $28.1 billion. Under the administration proposal, BOP funding would remain essentially unchanged at $7.1 billion.
Transfers to Private Prisons
BOP also sent a Jan. 24 memo to top managers of BOP facilities, directing them to identify federal inmates eligible for transfer to privately owned institutions run under contract with BOP. It explained transfers could alleviate overcrowding at BOP institutions and “maximize the effectiveness” of private contracts – most likely a reference to provisions in some contracts that commit the government to paying for at least a fixed number of inmates, whether or not the number of federal inmates in the contracted facility actually reaches that level.
The BOP memo identifies criteria for inmates eligible for transfer, requiring that they be low-security, male, not U.S. citizens, rated at level 1 or 2 for medical and mental health care, with 90 months or less remaining in their sentences. In addition, for the Rivers Correctional Institution contract facility in Wilton, North Carolina, all those eligibility criteria apply as well as having been sentenced in the District of Columbia by either D.C.’s Superior Court or the federal district court there. Located near the border with Virginia, the North Carolina private prison is the nearest to D.C. Rivers Correctional Institute, and will also accept inmates who meet all these criteria and who are waiting a spot in RDAP, the intensive residential drug abuse program that can bring as much as a 12-month sentence reduction.
Christopher Zoukis, the author of the Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts (McFarland & Co., 2014), is a contributing writer to Huffington Post, Prison Legal News, New York Daily News, Criminal Legal News, and the New York Journal of Books. He can be found online at PrisonerResource.com.