The Federal Bureau of Prisons could improve its efforts to provide safe, humane, cost-efficient, and secure correctional facilities.
The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is responsible for the care and custody of over 151,000 federal inmates (nearly half of whom are incarcerated for federal drug use). However, BOP has had a number of issues with its management and operations. For instance, it has experienced significant leadership instability—it had 5 different acting or permanent directors between 2016 and 2020. Additionally, federal prison management was included as an emerging issue on the 2021 High-Risk List.
The BOP also faces other challenges, including:
- Resource management. There have been a number of concerns about BOP’s ability to fully staff its institutions, the effects of staffing shortfalls, and the mental health of corrections staff. To help address these concerns, BOP should implement a reliable method for calculating staffing levels and develop a method to routinely collect and evaluate employee feedback.
- Drug treatment. In FY 2019, BOP began treating inmates with opioid use disorder via a new medication-assisted treatment program. It estimated that this program would cost $76.2 million. The agency is expanding this program, but hasn’t documented how it will gauge the additional agency personnel needed, how it plans to recruit and onboard them, or when the expansion will be completed.
- Reducing recidivism. BOP manages the Federal Prison Industries (FPI), which provides inmates with job skills to help reduce recidivism (a person’s relapse, after imprisonment, into criminal behavior). In 2019, about 16,500 inmates were employed by FPI. However, BOP has not reviewed FPI's impact on recidivism in over 2 decades or set a recidivism reduction goal.
- Health care. BOP provides medical, dental, and psychological treatment to inmates. Between FYs 2009 and 2016, BOP’s spending on health care increased by 37%, mostly due to an aging inmate population, rising pharmaceutical prices, and increasing costs of outside medical services. However, BOP lacks certain data (such as the cost, variety, and number of health services provided) that it needs to understand and control its health care costs. In addition, BOP health care policies on the treatment and care of pregnant women in its custody, such as polices related to prenatal care or nutrition, do not always align with national guidance recommendations.
- COVID-19. About 12% of the federal prison population is over age 55, and many have underlying health conditions like diabetes and chronic heart disease. These are two factors that further increase the risk for disease spread and can complicate planning and response to the COVID-19 pandemic.