Butler Joins Senate Judiciary Democrats to Push Bureau of Prisons to Make Salaries Competitive for Critical Staff

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler (D-CA) joined her Democrat colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee in pressing the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to request a special pay rate for critical BOP staff, as well as share results of a study on staffing guidelines. A special pay rate would make salaries more competitive, which would help remedy issues exacerbated by understaffing, including otherwise preventable deaths in custody. 

In addition to Butler, the letter is signed by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Coons (D-DE), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), and Peter Welch (D-VT).

In the letter to BOP Director Colette Peters, the Senators invoked revelations from recent Committee oversight hearings that understaffing at facilities has led to unsafe conditions: “Recent Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearings have highlighted the fact that understaffed prisons cannot ensure the safety of, or necessary services for, those in their care, including critical medical and mental health care.  The practice of augmentation, where non-custody prison staff, like teachers, case managers, and medical staff, have to perform routine correctional officer duties, hinders the successful implementation of the First Step Act (FSA) and access to programming that is crucial for individuals’ rehabilitation and successful re-entry into society.” 

A recent Department of Justice Inspector General report emphasized that the ongoing prison staffing crisis is causing unsafe conditions. These conditions were also documented in several media reports.

The Senators urged BOP to request a special pay rate for critical BOP staff from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to help address the underlying understaffing issue, writing: “To address barriers to BOP’s recruitment and retention of critical employees and improve safety and security at BOP facilities, we urgently recommend that BOP send a special pay rate request to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Additionally, to address the staffing shortages contributing to deficient medical care and recidivism reduction programming, we recommend that you request that this special pay rate apply not only to correctional officers, but also to all non-supervisory staff, including nurses, teachers, doctors, and psychologists. A special pay rate will provide an additional tool for BOP to immediately address its staffing shortage within its current budget, while Congress works on long-term solutions to this crisis.”

The push for a special pay rate is supported by the Council of Prison Locals (CPL), the union representing more than 30,000 bargaining unit employees at various levels of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the United States.

“This pay adjustment is not only warranted but essential to ensuring the safety, security, and effectiveness of our federal correctional institutions. Bureau of Prisons Staff play a crucial role in maintaining order and security within our prisons, and their compensation should reflect the significant challenges and risks they face on a daily basis,” said Brandy Moore White, National President of CPL, in a letter of support.

In addition to the push for a special pay rate, the Senators are requesting information regarding the implementation of a tool to assess risks associated with staffing levels, writing: “The implementation of the first phase of the automated staffing tool was scheduled to be complete in July 2023. To date, however, no information regarding the tool’s implementation has been publicly released. Therefore, we request that you provide us with any information regarding the implementation of this staffing tool and any findings, including the data, reports, or tools relevant to this contract. Additionally, we ask that you commit to briefing the Senate Judiciary Committee on the contractor’s findings or making the contractor’s findings public.”

Full text of the letter is available HERE.


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