Blog Article 

 Former BOP Director Hugh Hurwitz on Prison Reform 

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Michael Santos

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Hugh Hurwitz authored an article for The Hill with guidance on three steps the Bureau of Prisons should take to improve outcomes of our nation’s federal prison system. Download the original article from our PDF below, or visit The Hill.com to see it online.

Three Tips for Prison Reform Implementations

As many of you know, one of the subject-matter experts that we have on our team is Hugh Hurwitz, a former director of the Bureau of Prisons. He helps us understand the system, and more importantly, he assists with our advocacy of improving the system for those serving time.

Today a publication known as The Hill published an article by Hugh. Since people in prison do not have access to that publication, we wanted to share through the prison’s email system, but also publish in an audio / video format to bring more attention to Hugh’s important work.

More information to come soon.

Sincerely,

Michael

Three Steps to Setting Federal Prisons on the Right Path

By Hugh Hurwitz: 10/10/22 at 9:06 am

The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) mission is to safely and securely confine offenders and assist them in becoming law-abiding citizens. By most media accounts, the BOP is failing in this mission. Members of Congress have described the agency as “crisis plagued.” BOP’s recent history includes allegations of sexual assault against inmates and female staff at several institutions, staff misconduct and discipline issues at all levels of the agencyserious staffing shortages, and failures to implement policies under the three-year-old First Step Act (FSA). 

New Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Colette Peters recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Director Peters undoubtedly has a big job ahead of her. Until recently, BOP had long been a model of quality and consistency, but has lacked permanent, consistent leadership for years. Peters is the seventh director/acting director in seven years. 

Senate committee members, other members of Congress, DOJ leadership, and many stakeholders, all are pushing Peters to do more. Most changes and priorities will require the right resources in people, time, and money. To reverse these trends and restore BOP’s place as the premier correctional agency in the world, Peters will need to be allowed to initially focus on three important areas. Succeeding in these areas will open the doors to making many of the other changes she and others wish to achieve.

First, focus on the staff. Peters is known to care greatly about staff; it has been a focal point through her career in Oregon. BOP must work to fill many vacant jobs. Easier said than done, as recruiting people to work inside prison is a challenge for all correctional systems. To help achieve these hiring goals, the union must partner with Peters. They have an ownership stake in recruiting quality staff too, and often can be the best source for new hires. However, putting up advertisements and billboards criticizing BOP scares away potential applicants. They should be advertising the positive aspects of BOP to entice more quality applicants. Hiring is the most basic and critical issue, and BOP’s success will be significantly enhanced with the union working side by side with Peters and her leadership team. 

But filling positions is only half the staffing battle. BOP needs to root out the small percentage of bad staff involved in misconduct at all levels.

Inmates and staff alike must be free to report misconduct. They often don’t for fear of retaliation. BOP’s processes for dealing with inmate and staff grievances takes too long, and too often the grievances do not get the serious attention needed to weed out the bad apples. BOP needs an independent body responsible for conducting these investigations. That body needs to be able to act quickly and have authority to remove wrongdoers or recommend lesser action to BOP leadership. On Sept. 28, the Federal Prison Oversight Act was introduced in Congress; it would require DOJ to create an ombudsman to field complaints about prison conditions. Taking the responsibility out of BOP to receive and investigate misconduct claims is a good idea, but if an ombudsman is established, the office will need sufficient staff and resources to do the job. 

Second, begin to address BOP infrastructure. Inmates and staff need safe, well-maintained prisons. Peters testified that BOP’s infrastructure is in such bad shape that they need to prioritize the life/safety issues and let other needs go unmet. She noted that BOP has over $2 billion of structural needs and repairs, but their annual appropriation is under $100 million. Obviously, this is unsustainable. At the same time,  BOP’s population is down to about 158,000 people from the peak of nearly 220,000.  COVID and the CARES Act showed that we can safely put more people in home confinement and halfway houses without increasing crime. As the BOP continues to implement the FSA, it will continue to move more low risk people to community confinement or supervision, and out of prison. 

The reductions in population create new opportunities to address the crumbling infrastructure and rethink the BOP of the future. This includes looking at closing some BOP facilities. All factors should be considered, not just age, but also cost to make needed repairs and upkeep, location and ability to hire staff, distance from inmate families, access to community programs, medical care, education, etc. The House 2023 Budget Bill provides funding for this exact study. Congress needs to provide that funding so BOP can get an independent recommendation of which facilities to close. 

Congress must then work with Peters and, rather than cutting the positions associated with those facilities, they must allow BOP to retain some of the positions and reallocate them to other facilities. This would be a win-win as it will allow BOP to move significant numbers of staff to other facilities and allow Congress to save taxpayer money now and in the future by reducing BOP’s total staff compliment. If BOP is allowed to close the facilities that are draining the most resources, it will allow BOP to improve the remaining facilities, the lives of staff, inmates, and their families.

Finally, demonstrate a commitment to fully implementing the FSA, which was the culmination of years of bipartisan effort and the first major criminal justice reform legislation in a generation. When fully implemented, the FSA reduces overly lengthy prison sentences and better prepares inmates to successfully reenter society. Efforts to fully implement the FSA have been hampered by the pandemic, staffing shortages, and failed policy implementation. Director Peters can’t repair all this overnight, but she needs to demonstrate to Congress, BOP staff, and all stakeholders, that implementation of this significant legislation is on the top of her list.

The unconscionable state of AmericaCalifornia has a terrible labor law. The Biden administration wants to take it national

In her testimony, Peters said that she and the BOP “prioritizes full implementation of the FSA.” Providing clear direction to inmates and their families about how they can earn time credits toward community placement, ensure staff are trained and understand the process, and work toward increasing programs will all go a long way toward demonstrating that the BOP takes the FSA seriously and will continue to improve as staffing and policy issues are resolved.

If Peters is given the help and resources to resolve the staffing challenges and improve the infrastructure, she will have the staff and resources needed to fully implement the FSA, increased capacity to provide mental health treatment, medical care, education, and job training — and to ensure that the 95 percent of BOP population that are returning to our communities will be good neighbors that we can all be proud of.   

Hugh Hurwitz held multiple positions in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, including Acting Director and Assistant Director for Reentry Services. Currently, he provides consulting services in prison management, reentry and reform, organizational change, and other areas. He is a member of the Council on Criminal Justice.

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