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BOP’s Furlough Notification Policy Not to be Addressed for Seven Years

A September 2010 report by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice cast light on deficiencies with the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) furlough policy, and in doing so inadvertently highlighted the power of the federal prison employees’ union to delay changes in BOP policies.

In 2003, the BOP drafted a proposed policy that would have required BOP officials to notify crime victims and witnesses when a prisoner was temporarily released on furlough or transferred to another institution. Seven years later, however, the BOP has yet to implement that policy. Citing the requirements of a collective bargaining agreement with the National Council of Prison Locals, an arm of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a policy change that could have an effect on conditions of employment for AFGE members must be negotiated.

According to a September 2, 2010 New York Times article, “Agency and union officials meet for three days each month to discuss such issues, one at a time and usually in the order in which they were proposed ... the agency now says that it may not be able to fix the [furlough notification policy] problem until 2017 – a time frame called ‘excessive and unacceptable’ in a new report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn A. Fine.”

The Inspector General’s report indicated that from 2007 to 2009, the BOP granted non-transfer furloughs to about 2,000 prisoners a year for reasons that included receiving medical treatment, visiting dying relatives, attending funerals, appearing in court, and participating in educational, religious or work-related activities. Only certain security-eligible prisoners were allowed furloughs.

The head of the National Council of Prison Locals, Bryan Lowry, said the delay in developing the furlough notification policy was not the result of any action by the union, pointing out that the BOP could have accelerated the process at any time and “moved it to the front of the line,” but never did so. “We would have moved that straight to the top and tried to negotiate that and get it out as soon as possible,” Lowry stated.

There was no response to requests for comment from the BOP’s press office or other federal prison officials. According to a statement by the Inspector General’s office, “There has been excessive delay in implementing the BOP’s revised furlough policy, which affects victims’ rights and hinders the BOP from addressing weaknesses in the furlough program.”

The Inspector General’s report “also found that the BOP could not readily provide data associated with furlough-related escapes or information it received about crimes committed by furloughed inmates or inmates who escaped while on furlough,” among other deficiencies.

Sources: “Audit of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Furlough Program,” DOJ Office of the Inspector General Audit Division, Audit Report 10-44; New York Times

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