August 2021 was a month of milestones and identifying flaws in the US prison system. 30,000 inmates have officially been transferred to home confinement, BOP staff are entering facilities unscreened, and prisons are severely understaffed. Read below to learn more.
On March 26, 2020, the Attorney General issued a memorandum to prioritize home confinement to stop the spread of COVID-19 in prisons. Since then, inmates have been screened for eligibility for home confinement. In August 2021, a milestone was reached as 30,000 inmates have been transferred to home confinement. But the future of many of the inmates under home confinement is still uncertain after Biden’s announcement to return inmates to prison after the state of emergency ends.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has raised concerns to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) about staff entering prison facilities without being screened. Investigations have revealed that unscreened staff have brought “contraband” (prohibited items including drugs, weapons, tobacco, electronic devices, and currency) into prisons by walking around metal detectors. The DOJ has urged the BOP to reform its practices, and the BOP has agreed and issued instructions to all facilities.
BOP to make reforms upon urging of the DOJ.
BOP prisons have been operating at a 103% overcapacity since 2020, and the prisons are severely understaffed. The DOJ budgeted for 20,446 full-time correctional officers in 2020 but only about 13,762 officers are currently employed. As a result, other prison workers, including cooks and teachers, have been forced to guard inmates. According to a Business Insider report, there are several problems facing federal prison staff: “significant staffing shortages system-wide, mandatory overtime, lack of proper staff training, delayed overtime pay, lack of PPE, fear of contracting COVID-19, lack of mental health support, female officers dealing with sex discrimination and sexual harassment, low morale, increased attrition, difficulty hiring, unsanitary conditions, inability to properly social distance, undercounting/under-reporting of COVID-19 cases, and overall lack of leadership.”