Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), Congressman Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Congressman Jay Obernolte (R-CA), and Congressman Randy Weber (R-TX) introduced the bipartisan Prison Staffing Reform Act to direct the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to conduct a review of understaffing, devise a 3-year plan to fill vacancies, and implement the plan as well as submit yearly progress reports to Congress. The plan must encompass the effects of understaffing on workplace safety, the processing of inmate casework, and the availability of medical care and educational programs for inmates. This would ensure BOP addresses the pervasive understaffing that has had dire consequences for staff and inmates alike.

“The BOP oversees a prison system that includes 35,000 employees at 121 federal institutions containing over 125,000 inmates. When these facilities are understaffed, everyone suffers, especially inmates. In my visit to BOP-managed women’s prison FCI Dublin, I witnessed firsthand the staffing shortages that endanger inmates and limit access to basic medical care, vital educational programming, and efficient casework processing,” Rep. Speier said. “The toxic environments and alarmingly rampant rates of sexual harassment and abuse of women inmates at these facilities is disgraceful. The bipartisan Prison Staffing Reform Act is a crucial step towards addressing some of the long-standing conditions in BOP prisons that allow abusers and sexual predators to flourish without recourse.”

“Recently, Americans have seen the negative impact of staffing shortages in many different sectors— such as schools and hospitals. After touring a women’s federal prison with my colleagues, I can unequivocally say that our prison system is no exception. These instances of understaffing exacerbate an already egregious situation where inmates are routinely denied adequate medical care for months until they have escalated into medical emergencies,” Rep. Chu said.  “The inability to maintain proper staff ratios also means serial abusers are kept on prison payroll, subjecting female inmates in particular to absolutely unacceptable sexual violence and harassment. We simply must guarantee accountability measures are in place to ensure the respectful treatment of prisoners. I am proud to be a cosponsor of the bipartisan Prison Staffing Reform Act, which will provide an accountability structure to do just that.”

“When someone commits a crime, it is important they face appropriate and proportional consequences. Those consequences should never include abuse or neglect. Yet unfortunately, through visits to correctional facilities and conversations with impacted individuals, my colleagues and I know these horrors do in fact occur. We have heard from not only survivors of abuse, but also corrections employees who have been overworked and under resourced – leaving them unable to intervene when it was most needed,” Rep. Bass said. “This bipartisan bill is an important step to improving the safety and accountability of our federal prison system, while ensuring the health and safety of incarcerated individuals, employees, and visitors in its facilities.”

“Staffing shortages don’t just put unnecessary burdens on the public safety officers and other BOP workers, they actively put the safety of those incarcerated at BOP facilities at risk,” Rep. Carbajal said. “At the Lompoc prison on the Central Coast, chronic understaffing and inadequate resources led to one of largest COVID-19 outbreaks at any BOP facility as well as deadly fights that killed both inmates and staff. Our legislation provides the accountability needed to protect facilities like Lompoc by ensuring there is proper staffing in place to provide the security and services that are needed.”

“The reliance on augmentation and overtime to fill staffing vacancies at Bureau of Prisons facilities in Victorville and across the country has decreased safety for staff and inmates alike.  This practice is also substantially more expensive for taxpayers than simply staffing appropriately in the first place,” Rep. Obernolte said. “It’s critical that the BOP take action immediately to address this problem and fill vacancies with the qualified people needed to keep our prisons secure, functional, and safe.”

“The crisis of chronic understaffing at the federal Bureau of Prisons is a major problem that needs to be addressed immediately,” Rep. Weber said. “Doing so will lead to better and safer conditions for our correctional officers and inmates.  As members of the BOP Reform Caucus, we are championing solutions to address problems that have plagued the BOP and our correctional officers, and our bipartisan bill is a step in the right direction.”

"Staffing shortages in the Bureau of Prisons directly undermine the federal prison system's ability to foster both accountability and rehabilitation. Our prison system cannot operate effectively if a dearth of staff is making it unsafe. Currently, incarcerated people are too worried about their own safety to have the time and energy it takes to make changes in their skillset or character. Ongoing staffing shortages at the BOP are also making it nearly impossible to connect individuals with prison programming that is proven to improve public safety. The Prison Staffing Reform Act is a strong step towards Congress fulfilling the promise it made to the American people in the First Step Act and supporting our hard-working federal corrections employees," said 15 presidents representing the Western Region of the Bureau of Prison Locals.

"Staffing shortages in the Bureau of Prisons directly undermine the federal prison system's ability to foster both accountability and rehabilitation," said Jeremiah Mosteller, Senior Policy Analyst at Americans for Prosperity. "Our prison system cannot operate effectively if a dearth of staff is making it unsafe. Currently, incarcerated people are too worried about their own safety to have the time and energy it takes to make changes in their skillset or character. Ongoing staffing shortages at the BOP are also making it nearly impossible to connect individuals with prison programming that is proven to improve public safety. The Prison Staffing Reform Act is a strong step towards Congress fulfilling the promise it made to the American people in the First Step Act and supporting our hard-working federal corrections employees." 

“The brave men and women who continue to do the work inside our inadequately staffed federal prisons, are doing so honorably, and often mandated to work 16-hour days to cover for the lack of staffing. Case Managers, Counselors, Teachers, Nurses, and Business office staff are all being required to work Correctional Services to cover for the inadequate staffing levels, hindering their ability to fully focus on things like the First Step Act, and overwhelming them with work which they must complete in significantly fewer hours to ensure the success of the programs. Additionally, these staff are being pushed beyond their limits, and the welfare of the staff are at an all-time low, all directly related to the staffing crisis. These men and women have not looked for recognition or even a ‘thank you’ but rather look for staffing to be the primary focus… . Congresswoman Speier’s Prison Staffing Reform Act addresses these issues. I, not only fully support the bill, but appreciate the work being done for those who are often forgotten about behind the walls of the nation’s federal prisons,” said Mario Campos, the District 12 National Vice President of the American Federation of Government Employees, representing federal employees in California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii.

The Prison Staffing Reform Act would require BOP to assess the far-reaching impacts of chronic understaffing on the following metrics, as well as implement a plan to fill vacancies and advance associated priorities for the agency:

  • The availability of medical care for inmates, including mental health, substance misuse, and maternal health services.
  • The processing of inmates’ applications for compassionate release, home confinement, and time credits.
  • The availability of teachers, therapists, and support staff aimed at reducing recidivism.
  • Adequate protections for staff and inmates against violence and sexual misconduct.
  • The availability of sanitary and efficient food services.
  • Prison security, including the detection of contraband and installation of cameras.
  • Workplace conditions that may jeopardize employees’ mental health.
  • Wasteful costs incurred by BOP associated with augmentation and overtime.

The BOP must act on a 3-year plan to address understaffing and remedy these related, long-standing challenges.

Click here for a copy of the bill text.