Bureau Of Prisons Is Overworking Its Most Critical Staff Positions During First Step Act Implementation

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The federal Bureau of Prisons has faced staffing shortages for years, which has led to increases in overtime, low morale and overworked staff. nearly one-third of federal correctional officer jobs in the United States are vacant, forcing prisons to use cooks, teachers, nurses and other workers to oversee prisoners through a process known as augmentation. While there is a shortage of corrections officers, there is also a shortage of other professionals at a time when the BOP is trying to implement the First Step Act. One of the primary professionals in the BOP to manage this process is the case manager.

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For federal prisoners, the most important person in managing their lives is a case manager. Case managers develop, evaluate, and analyze program needs for prisoners and, more importantly for those incarcerated, develop release plans for their return to society. With the First Step Act, many prisoners in institutions have realized First Step Act Earned Credits that shortened prison terms for participating in meaningful activities and for having a lower risk of recidivism. For some, it could mean up to a year off of their sentence. BOP case managers across the country are now scrambling because thousands of inmates who are scheduled to be released in the upcoming months. However, those same case managers are seeing a surge in case load work while they continue to be augmented due to correction of officer staff shortages. In addition, some of the staff shortages are in the area of ​​case management itself.

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The BOP put out a memo in 2019 providing guidance for its institutions on case load management. That memo, written by then-Assistant Director of Correctional Programs Division Michael Carvajal (named director in February 2020 and announced his retirement in January 2022 … still director until another is named), stated as a prisoner to staff ratio for key positions: Unit Manager 300:1, Case Manager 150:1, Counselor 200:1 and Unit Secretary 300:1.

In an interview with Eric Speirs, President of AFGE Local 501, he discussed the particular pressures faced by those at FDC Miami, a facility with a prisoner population of nearly 1,500. According to Speirs, at FDC Miami there are 2 Unit Managers (750:1), 5 Case Managers (300:1), 5 Counselors (300:1) and 1 Unit Secretary (1,500:1). The BOP has a policy on unit case management where it states, “Caseloads for Case Managers and Counselors will be reviewed by Management on a regular basis in an effort to minimize the negative impact that large caseloads have on staff.” That is from the BOP’s own Program Statement that is dated August 2017, more than a year before the First Step Act was even signed into law. These same positions are now responsible for implementation of the First Step Act in addition to their other responsibilities.

The problem is further exacerbated because correctional staff at FDC Miami is at 85%, a statistic outlined in a Labor Management Partnership (LRM) meeting from March 22, 2022. The agenda stated that, “Correctional Officers are beyond frustrated and overworked with mandatory (8) hour overtime shifts weekly (working continuously 16 hours straight and only sleeping 4-5 hours)!,

I also spoke with Mary Melek, a case manager at FDC Miami who had 364 prisoners on her case load until a recent hire cut that in half, still over the recommended 150:1 ration. Melek expressed her frustration, “There are 5 augmented openings on a shift, openings where the BOP has planned augmentation, and that has pulled me away from my work.” The augmentation not only applies to case managers, but other workers, including health services where FDC Miami is at 56% of its staffing rate.

The LRM reviewed for this article also noted that case managers were under pressure to coordinate timely, “First Step Act time credit releases, Street Release Paperwork, Residential Reenty referrals, visitation, phone calls, computer access for inmates.,

Miami is not unique in staff shortages for case managers. At FCI Coleman in Florida, there are 12 positions for case management and 6 are vacant according to Joe Rojas, AFGE President of the union Local 506. Rojas said that the BOP has given case managers and counselors an impossible job where their caseloads are not only double what they should be, but they are being pulled away to do correctional staff duties because of overall staffing shortages. ,If there are no counselors, teachers and case managers, there is no First Step Act,Rojas said, “and the ones who ultimately pay the price for that are prisoners.,

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Credit: www.forbes.com /

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