Internal Memo: Federal Prisons Facing Budget Crisis

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is facing a projected budget shortfall of $433 million and could be forced to cut 4,000 correctional staff positions if the agency cannot obtain an additional $289 million in funding.

That’s according to an internal document obtained by Colorado Confidential, which shows that the corrections agency is facing a budget crisis where staffing levels could get to a point where the “safety and security of staff and inmates could be in jeopardy.”The BOP has already identified approximately $143 million in possible reductions, which could include eliminating staff overtime, reducing staff training, and not opening new prisons, according to the internal memo.

However, there still remains $289 million in unfunded spending requirements that deal with correctional officer staffing, and the document says the agency will need to cut 4,000 positions if it cannot secure the additional funds in a supplemental appropriations bill in the U.S. Congress this spring.

Data in the internal memo refers to 39,383 authorized BOP correctional worker positions in the current budget cycle. However, roughly 34,000, or 86 percent, of those positions are currently filled. The projected cuts would reduce the staffing levels to approximately 76 percent, three-quarters of the needed workforce.

Staffing troubles are nothing new to the agency. Colorado correctional workers at the Supermax prison in Florence, a facility that houses the nation’s most dangerous criminals including foreign and domestic terrorists, have testified again and again that the BOP is not staffing the prison adequately for what the agency itself has defined as a safe operating level.

Attempts to contact the BOP over the weekend were unsuccessful.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at