The Federal Bureau of Prisons (http://www.bop.gov) is stuffed with almost 180,000 prisoners, more than half of them doing time for drug offenses, and it is running out of money. The BOP began a 30-day hiring freeze last week and could lay off as many as 2,000 employees as soon as March if it can't get more funding. Director Harley Lappin announced the hiring freeze in a memo to employees, and the layoff warning came in a letter from Lappin to a prison guard union leader, a copy of which was made available to the Washington Post.
Although the BOP has a $4.4 billion budget to operate the 104-prison federal gulag, Congress has not fully funded the agency in the last two years, leading to a $140 million shortfall this year and as much as $500 million next year, according to American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals president Phil Glover, the recipient of the letter from Lappin.
Oddly enough, the freeze and the dire warnings of future cuts come as Congress is considering the BOP's annual budget. The House passed a $4.76 billion BOP budget last month, $50 million more than the Bush administration requested, while the Senate has yet to act.
Glover, whose union represents 20,000 BOP employees, told the Post as many as 2,000 could be laid off in an agency struggling to keep pace with the rapid growth of the federal prison population. Driven largely by the effort to enforce drug prohibition, the number of federal prisoners has ballooned from 24,000 in 1980 to 54,000 in 1990, 124,000 in 2000, and more than 179,000 as of last week. During that same period, drug offenders rose from 16% of federal prisoners to more than 54% today.
"You are running short all the time," Glover said. "It's just not a safe situation."
Director Lappin testified before Congress in March that inmate assaults against guards and other prisoners had increased 28% in recent years, which he attributed to overcrowding and understaffing. "The rapid growth of the inmate population and significant crowding have increased the demand on services and facilities," Lappin said. "If not managed properly, this can lead to an increased potential for inmate violence. We must continue to maintain adequate staffing levels and to provide adequate programs and secure our capacity to house the additional inmates."
Or send fewer nonviolent drug offenders to prison in the first place.