by Casey Bastian
As of March 31, 2022, nearly one-third of guard positions were vacant in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), leaving the remaining guards’ duties “augmented” with additional prisoner supervision. Cooks, nurses, teachers, counselors, and case managers have also had prisoner security added to their workloads.
The union representing BOP staffers said the worker shortage bore some of the blame in an egregious case of staff misconduct at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Miami, where a guard employed as a safety specialist was fired on December 9, 2021, after an investigation determined he gave a prisoner “full use of his staff computer” to do the guard’s work for him.
Thanks to rules negotiated by the union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), it took 27 months for BOP to get rid of Roland Otero, who was sitting to one side while a prisoner sat at his desk and did his work for him on his BOP computer when a fellow staffer walked into the office and caught them on August 18, 2018.
Otero was reportedly flummoxed, but the prisoner admitted he was “helping out with some reports,” which included identifying information for BOP employees, such as names, addresses, social security numbers and even medical documentation.
BOP asked the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to investigate, while the 15-year veteran employee exercised his union-mandated right to mediation. OIG largely confirmed BOP’s findings that Otero got prisoners to take his calls and send email for him, as well as order supplies, search workers’ compensation data, draft Equal Employment Opportunity complaints and even write a letter to the warden after Otero received a poor performance review.
Moreover, to keep from being found out, he ordered and installed an office door chime from Amazon that prisoners stationed as lookouts could ring in warning when other staffers approached, paying them off with food for their efforts.
AFGE argued that much of the evidence against Otero was prison hearsay, and any security risks were the fault of understaffing. But the mediator said “[i]t is clear to me that his transgressions crossed several bright lines,” and he upheld the wayward guard’s dismissal.
FCI Miami, a minimum-security institution, was also where a guard recently pleaded guilty to taking bribes to smuggle contraband into the prison. For that, Victor DeJesus, 47, was sentenced to 70 months in prison in November 2020.
That same year a former prisoner reported guards ran a “fast and furious” style smuggling ring at the prison. BOP put four staffers on leave but returned them to duty in October 2021.
AFGE says many BOP employees are under-supervised because management staff has been augmented to perform other duties and left physically fatigued from working overtime. Case managers, of all positions in a federal prison, are most affected by augmentation, the union notes. They are also invaluable to prisoners seeking sentence-reduction credits provided by the First Step Act of 2018, which provides programs and tools to help prisoners earn up to one year off their sentences. It is a case manager who must evaluate the prisoner, develop a plan, and then track the prisoner’s progress and keep accurate records.
Joe Rojas, an AFGE local chapter president in Florida, blames BOP for giving case managers an impossible job. In several federal prisons in the state, he says caseloads have doubled even as case managers are augmented to cover correctional duties because of overall staffing shortages. “If there are no counselors, teachers and case managers, there is no First Step Act,” Rojas said, “and the ones who ultimately pay the price for that are prisoners.”
Sources: Forbes, WPLG
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login