RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS FOR THE RECORD SUBMITTED
FROM SENATOR JOHN N. KENNEDY
Question 1: Federal Correctional Complex Oakdale and Federal Correctional Complex Pollock are federal prisons facilities in Louisiana. FCC Oakdale and FCC Pollock are experiencing twin crises that many other federal prisons across the nation face: correctional officers are overworked and understaffed. The dangers faced by these correctional officers cannot be overstated. My constituents back home in Louisiana are concerned about this issue—and so am I.
In 2017, the Department of Justice eliminated all existing vacancies within the BOP— approximately 5,000 positions nationwide—in an effort to downsize the agency. This decision lowered the total number of approved positions at facilities like FCC Oakdale and FCC Pollock. Nearly five years later, this has led to chronic staffing shortages. Congress attempted to correct this issue in 2021 and again in 2022 when it provided funding to the BOP in the respective Omnibus bills directing BOP to hire staff across the federal prison system so that levels would equal those from before the position elimination.
BOP has failed to carry out Congress’s instruction, and it is instead lowering the total amount of positions. For example, in January 2016, FCC Oakdale had 501 positions filled out of 550 total positions authorized (46 vacancies). As of April 2022, FCC Oakdale has only 416 positions filled out of 467 total positions authorized (46 vacancies). In 2018, FCC Pollock had 365 positions filled with 426 total positions authorized. Now there are only 313 positions filled with 368 total positions authorized. BOP pretends that it has met the January 2016 staffing levels as directed by Congress, but the reality is that there are fewer total positions authorized across both federal prison complexes. This has led to augmentation—forcing non-correctional officers, such as teachers and counselors, to perform the duties of correctional officers—and mandatory overtime for correctional officers already facing exhaustion and fatigue.
Per the Joint Explanatory Statement to the 2021 Omnibus, the BOP was instructed “to improve hiring policies to ensure that, within the funding provided, it can promptly fill existing and future vacancies in order to staff its 122 Federal facilities at January 2016 levels, and forgo further position eliminations.” The Joint Explanatory Statement to the 2022 Omnibus stated “BOP is expected to hire additional full-time correctional officers in order to reduce the overreliance on augmentation and improve staffing beyond mission-critical levels in custodial and all other departments, including medical, counseling, and educational positions.”
Since the BOP has ignored congressional instruction, the situation has grown dire. Prison housing units at the low security facility at FCC Oakdale often only have one correctional officer to monitor inmates within that housing unit. Correctional officers at FCC Oakdale are often forced to work double shifts in order to make up for staff shortages, which leads to exhaustion and fatigue. Noncorrectional officers, such as teachers and counselors, are being forced to work as correctional officers in order to make up for staff shortage. Correctional officers at FCC Pollock are frequently mandated to work 16-hour days, apparently with no breaks between 8-hour shifts. Augmentation occurs there, too. This is unacceptable. Recently a member of my staff visited the federal prisons in Oakdale and Pollock, Louisiana. He observed staffing shortages at these facilities firsthand. During his visit to the United States Penitentiary at FCC Pollock, two inmates attacked and stabbed another inmate with hand-made metal shanks. As a result, a housing unit was placed on lockdown and an ambulance was called, with the ambulance operator ultimately requesting a medivac helicopter.
A. Can you commit in writing that the Department of Justice will faithfully ensure that all 122 federal prisons in this country, including those in Oakdale and Pollock, Louisiana, will receive the appropriate level of funding pursuant to the instructions from this Committee?
As I made clear in my testimony before this Committee on April 26, 2022, maintaining a safe and humane correctional system is a critical responsibility of the Justice Department. In particular, ensuring that all 122 BOP facilities are fully staffed by professionals with the necessary skills and expertise to ensure a safe and humane prison system is a priority for the Justice Department. That is why in FY 2023, the President’s Budget requests a total of $8.18 billion for BOP to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of correctional staff and incarcerated individuals. The Justice Department’s FY 2023 request would allow BOP to hire more than 700 new correctional officers and nearly 600 new First Step Act staff.
B. What steps are the Department of Justice taking to reduce augmentation of positions within BOP and mandatory overtime of correctional officers?
BOP reports that through the first half of FY 2022, documented augmentation hours have decreased compared to each of the past two fiscal years. BOP further reports that it has contracted with an outside consultant, NTT Data Services, to create a new tool that will help BOP make real-time staffing calculations and predictive forecasting for staffing needs, which will help BOP better understand and address the overuse of augmentation and overtime. Currently, BOP is working closely with the vendor and the study is moving along. BOP anticipates that, as soon as this summer, it will be able to start testing a new tool for making staffing projections.
C. When will the staffing numbers at FCC Oakdale and FCC Pollock be adjusted to reflect the staffing positions of January 2016 as directed by Congress?
BOP reports that it has contracted with a consultant to assist it in determining the appropriate staffing level at all institutions. BOP further advises that any adjustments to BOP’s staffing levels are contingent upon affordable FTE levels determined by receiving adequate funding from Congress. BOP’s affordable FTE level in 2016 was 37,565. In FY
2021, BOP’s affordable FTE level was 35,161. This reflects a reduction of over 2,000 FTE.
According to BOP, any adjustments to return to the 2016 staffing levels will require additional FTEs and adjustments to ensure adequate positions at all institutions.
D. Have non-correctional officers tasked with correctional officer responsibilities been adequately trained to meet departmental standards?
BOP reports that employees working in institutions, regardless of their position, receive the same basic law enforcement training in correctional duties and are required to successfully complete this training as a condition of their employment. As a result, they all receive Law Enforcement Officers pay, are covered under the LEO retirement system, and are expected to perform correctional duties and functions as needed.
E. How much overtime has been used at FCC Oakdale and FCC Pollock between April 1, 2021, and April 1, 2022?
BOP advises that overtime costs during this time period were approximately $3.2 million for FCC Oakdale and approximately $6.2 million for FCC Pollock.
Question 2: Over a year ago now, I submitted Questions for the Record (QFRs) to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which operates under the Justice Department, after Director Michael Carvajal testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s April 2021 hearing titled “Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.” Director Carvajal never responded to my questions. I sent two additional oversight letters regarding BOP funding to Director Carvajal on July 15, 2021 and December 14, 2021, respectively, without response.
A. As the country’s chief law enforcement officer, will you ensure that I receive substantive responses to Questions for the Record and oversight letters?
Yes. BOP reports that its responses both to your oversight letters dated December 14, 2021 and July 15, 2021 as well as all outstanding Questions for the Record that Director
Carvajal has received will be substantive and submitted to Congress in short order.