If mass incarceration, the War on Drugs, and mandatory minimum sentencing were not enough of an affront to society, it was recently reported that top federal prison officials received millions in bonuses – despite that fact that federal prisons are mired in scandal and corruption.
USA Today reports:
“The U.S. Bureau of Prisons paid more than $2 million in bonuses to top administrators and wardens during the past three years while the agency was confronting persistent overcrowding, sub-par inmate medical care, chronic staffing shortages and a lurid sexual harassment lawsuit that engulfed its largest institution, according to government records and court documents.
The awards ranged from a $7,000 payment last year to a D.C. administrator, to $28,000 to the agency’s acting director Thomas Kane, and $25,500 for Deborah Schult, assistant director of the Health Services Division. The bulk of the payments, nearly $1 million, were approved last year and amounted to almost double the combined amounts in the previous two years.”
Prison staffers are outraged that their bosses – who did virtually nothing to stop pervasive sexual harassment from inmates over the course of 16 years – are receiving “performance awards,” even as their lawsuit is pending a settlement.
"These people got bonuses off the backs of people who were actually dealing with the predators,'' said Sandra Parr, a vice president of the national union of prison workers. She went on to say that top agency officials "chose to ignore it,'' which allowed the problem to spiral out of control.
In a private business setting, bonuses are effective incentives to encourage the highest quality work and the desire to improve the product or service. However, in a federal bureaucracy, it's just a waste of taxpayer money to reward negligence and incompetence.
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None of the officials involved in the scandal has responded to an inquiry from USA Today, but a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons said the bonuses were given as a “strengthening of our (senior executive services).” But the rationale for each “performance award” will not be released.
Tamyra Jarvis, the warden at a Coleman, FL prison embroiled in the sexual harassment scandal, was given $34,500 over the past two years before retiring. The Coleman prison is a primary subject of the lawsuit brought by staffers.
“During the course of the case, which featured allegations that inmates routinely masturbated in front of female workers and threatened them with rape, victims' attorneys and union officials argued that for years bureau managers and top administrators did little or nothing to intervene.
According to court documents, prison managers routinely either destroyed incident reports detailing the inmate conduct or disregarded the complaints altogether. In one case in which an inmate got close enough to ejaculate on a staffer's leg, a manager acknowledged "shredding'' the staffer's complaint because the staffer could not positively identify the substance as semen since she was "not medical personnel.''
Besides the problem of rampant sexual harassment, federal prisons are plagued by inadequate medical care and “crisis level” staffing shortages. An Inspector General report found that some prisons had a 40 percent or more vacancy rate, citing the inability to compete with the private sector in recruiting medical staff.
But instead of using that $2 million to increase the salary for medical professionals, bonuses were given to corrupt prison officials sailing toward retirement while ignoring festering problems.
Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise to learn that a federal agency known as the Bureau of Prisons is the cause of needless suffering. The agency thrives on mass incarceration, throwing people in cages for victimless crimes.
According to its own statistics, almost half (46.3%) of federal inmates are in prison for “drug offenses,” which is a product of federal government’s inhumane, archaic War on Drugs. The drug war, borne of racism and quelling antiwar dissent, helps no one except the agencies and law enforcement who profit from it.
Despite everything we know about the failures and injustice of the drug war, the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has promised to ramp up the drug war and pursue mandatory minimum sentencing -- thus exacerbating the problem of mass incarceration and the cruelty of locking people up for victimless crimes.