No Quick Fix For Federal Prisons Budget Crisis

Lawmakers have already approved $109 million to combat a budget crisis at the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), according to documentation obtained by Colorado ConfidentialIn an electronic message that was sent to federal correctional officers on Friday from an official with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a labor union that represents thousands of correctional workers throughout the nation, union legislative analyst Phil Glover states that BOP is still millions short from obtaining the money to correct a $289 million budget shortfall that could lead to the termination of 4,000 correctional positions at the federal agency and leave staffing levels at dangerously low numbers.

The union message states that the Office of Management and Budget, an arm of the White House, has authorized the Department of Justice (the BOP’s parent agency) to request $240 million in “reprogramming funds” that will take money from the Justice Department and reallocate funds to the BOP.

Such funds need to be approved by both the House and Senate subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, and according to the union document, the panels have already approved $109 million of the $240 million that was authorized. The message also says that the committees denied the rest of the funds because the Justice Department had decided to reallocate the money from state grants, moving the committee to tell the Justice Department to find other areas to cut in order to provide funds to the BOP.

On a second front, AFGE officials met with the staff of House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., last week to discuss the issue, and the union is planing on submitting a $189 million funding measure that could possibly be attached to the Iraq and Afghanistan supplemental funding bill currently being debated in Congress, according to the union document.

In an internal memo that was reported on by Colorado Confidential earlier in the month, the BOP noted that the $289 million shortfall could bring staffing levels to a point where “safety and security of staff and inmates could be in jeopardy.” (The agency later admitted publicly to a shortfall.) Projected cuts of 4,000 federal corrections employees would reduce the staffing levels to approximately 76 percent, three-quarters of the needed workforce.

Colorado correctional workers at the federal Supermax prison in Florence, a facility that houses the nation’s most dangerous criminals including foreign and domestic terrorists, have testified that the BOP is not staffing the prison adequately for what the agency itself has defined as a safe operating level.

The BOP was not available for comment over the weekend, and the AFGE has not returned requests for comment regarding the funding.

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