So, the federal government has shutdown. What does that mean for federal prisoners? On Monday, the Department of Justice announced its contingency plan:
Bureau of Prisons: All staff at the Federal prisons, including Public Health Service Officers necessary to provide medical care of inmates, are considered excepted since they have direct daily inmate custody responsibilities. Employees are also needed to continue inmate custody responsibilities over some 38,700 inmates in contract facilities and process all new designations to federal prisons from the Courts. Regional and headquarters support will be maintained only to the extent necessary to support excepted operations. BOP’s Buildings and Facilities, Prison Industries and Commissary accounts have multi-year authority and should have adequate carry over funding to meet expenses during a lapse in appropriations.
What does this mean? First, while the Regional Offices and Central Office reportedly have skeleton staffs, federal correctional institutions are at (or near) full operating strength. However, even though prison personnel are expected to show for work (and will not be paid for days they don’t work), their pay will likely be delayed, perhaps for the duration of the shutdown. Said differently, BOP personnel, as Executive Branch employees, are working for IOUs.
The irony? As noted, Federal Prison Industries is a self-funding program. So, while correctional officers are not being paid (for now), those prisoners they manage who work for Unicor are.
It is unclear whether or when the shutdown may impact things like visitation. But, anyone interacting with BOP institution personnel should assume that morale is not high and will only get worse as the shutdown drags out and staff must contend with the demands of daily life (paying bills) faced with growing uncertainty. There thus might be increased tension in visiting rooms or in prisoners’ interaction with staff. Prudence suggests sensitivity to the reality that, as the President offered today, federal employees work “in a political climate that, too often in recent years, has treated you like a punching bag.”