COVID-19 Pandemic Leads to Founding of Congressional BOP Reform Caucus
House Rep. Fred Keller (R-Pa.) announced the formation of the BOP Reform Caucus, a bipartisan group intended to increase oversight of the BOP. “We understand that good, transparent government is not a partisan issue,” said Keller. “With a $7 billion budget, more than 36,000 employees and 172,000 inmates the BOP is a massive agency with extremely limited oversight.”
Other charter caucus members include Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y), and Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.). “As a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the [BOP], I’ve seen clearly that we need to fix this system,” said Cartwright. “And it’s going to take a coalition of Democrats and Republicans to do it.”
It was only a matter of time until the BOP’s mismanagement made it a target for closer scrutiny. But it was the BOP’s decision to transfer inmates between institutions during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that really drew the attention of legislators.
Union County, Pennsylvania, Commissioner Jeff Reber said transferring prisoners into facilities there gave the local community a sense of risk that did not previously exist. Jails and prisons exist in communities, and outbreaks of the virus in facilities put those communities in danger. “The federal [BOP] was ignoring every possible thing to keep our people safe,” said Union County Commission Chair Preston Boop.
Correctional Officer Unions have also made supportive comments about the formation of the caucus. “While the inmate population has decreased slightly, its budgetary increases are met with illogical staffing cuts and executive bonuses,” said Shane Fausey, president of National Council of Prison Locals 33. “The mission-critical staffing cuts in the early 2000s led to the elimination of a second housing officer in many of our high security units.”
Only time will tell what changes will be come about because of this oversight, and it is unclear how the push for mass decarceration by protesters will influence the caucus.
But one thing is for sure: “The (BOP) isn’t happy we are doing this,” said Keller. “They don’t want the transparency (and) this is the first step.”
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