By Marcia Moore
U.S. Rep. Tom Marino is pushing for a review of the Federal Bureau of Prison’s staffing procedures to assess safety conditions at federal prisons across the country.
Marino, R-10 of Lycoming County, and Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, formally asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a review of BOP’s staffing procedures and practices due to ongoing concerns.
Lawmakers have been expressing concern for months about staffing shortages in U.S. prisons and the use of “augmentation” or using administrative employees to temporarily fill in as corrections officers.
“The Bureau of Prisons can and must do more to ensure that correctional officers in our federal prisons are operating in a safe work environment,” Marino said. “These dangerous staffing levels that contribute to incidents of violence are unacceptable. The Bureau needs to take a comprehensive look at these policies and make sure they are doing everything possible to maintain safety and order in their prisons.”
The BOP houses 180,789 inmates and employs about 35,921 staff members and administrators.
A 2012 GAO review noted concerns with unfilled positions and increased inmate-to-staff ratios, but did not assess the agency-wide use of augmentation.
“With the safety concerns related to BOP staffing procedures and practices, we believe the federal government would benefit from an up-to-date review of these procedures and practices,” said Jeff Sands, Marino’s communications director. “Given the GAO’s expertise on oversight and use of federal resources, reports such as this often have a large impact on shaping public policy. Congressman Marino and Senator Johnson asked for this review in order to gather more information on this pressing issue.”
Marino said he hopes a GAO report will “bring more attention, perspective, and information to these staffing policies and procedures so that we do not jeopardize the safety and security of correctional officers, inmates, and the general public.”
Dave Sprout, a paralegal with the inmate advocacy group, Lewisburg Prison Project, said a GAO assessment of staffing levels is a good idea.
“If there is a need for more staff, especially at USP Lewisburg, USP Allenwood and USP Canaan, that would make inmates safer, the Lewisburg Prison Project would welcome that. (We) certainly do not want to see anyone injured or hurt in any BOP institution, inmate or staff,” he said.
Sprout added that he would also urge Marino to contact U.S. Justice Department, Office of Inspector General to investigate alleged staff misconduct.
“Particularly at USP Lewisburg’s Special Management Unit where the use of non-lethal weapons, hard restraints and restriction of mail have been ongoing issues that can affect the safety of staff and inmates. Some of these issues have been raised with the congressman for several years, but yet they still continue,” he said.