Union Blames Lack of Staffing Funds for Federal Prison Budget Crunch

UPDATE: The Bureau of Prisons has released a statement confirming a budget shortfall. More after the fold.

The federal Bureau of Prisons is facing a budget crisis because Congress has underfunded an agency account that is predominately used to pay staff members. 

At least that’s according to documentation obtained by Colorado Confidential from the American Federation of Government Employees, a labor union that represents thousands of federal correctional workers throughout the nation.The union’s papers confirm details in a Colorado Confidential article published Monday, which reported on an internal memo that claimed the bureau was facing a $433 million budget shortfall and may be forced to cut 4,000 correctional staff positions if the agency cannot obtain an additional $289 million in funding.

The most recent information was compiled by legislative representative Alan Kadrofske, who lobbies on behalf of the union.

According to Kadrofske’s analysis, the bureau has already informed the union about the proposed cuts of 4,000 staff positions due to what the papers say is a shortfall of $433 million in the agency’s “salaries and expenses account,” where around 70 percent of the funds go to staffing costs.

The union’s documentation goes on to say that because Congress has not adequately funded the account for the past three years, including funding in the 2007 budget, the bureau has taken a number of actions to reduce costs by about $270 million over that period, including cutting more than 2,300 staff positions, closing four federal prison camps and consolidating human resource functions to a single location in Texas.

The bureau and the union did not return requests for comment.

In response to the story posted Monday, Sen. Ken Salazar, a Democratic lawmaker from Colorado who has voiced concern over staffing woes at the federal Supermax prison located in his home state, released the following statement:

Reports indicating that staffing levels have reached dangerously low levels at Supermax and other key prison facilities across the country are deeply troubling and a cause for grave concern.  We must work to restore funds that will bolster the safety and security of the hardworking men and women who staff our prison facilities, their surrounding communities and the Nation.

Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican whose district contains three federal prisons including the Supermax, was traveling and unavailable to comment, according to a spokesperson.

The news comes after Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., sent a brief memo to bureau head Harley Lappin in February, commenting on a rise in violence towards correctional workers and inquiring about staffing issues.

According to an internal document that was reported on Monday, roughly 86 percent of BOP-authorized correctional workers positions are now filled, and the cuts would bring that number down to approximately three-quarters of the needed workforce. The union’s analysis also confirms these numbers.

UPDATE: Earlier today, the fedearal Bureau of Prisons released a statement regarding the agency’s budget shortfall:

The Bureau of Prisons is facing a budget shortfall, and we are working with [Department of Justice], [Office of Management and Budget] and the Congress to address our needs.

The statement does not mention how much of a shortfall, or what staff positions may need to be cut.

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 erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.