Durbin Statement On Prison Understaffing Crisis Following Epstein Death

Senator calls on Judiciary Committee Chairman Graham to hold an oversight hearing when Senate reconvenes in September

SPRINGFIELD – U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today released the following statement regarding the understaffing crisis at the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which is receiving heightened attention following the apparent suicide of Jeffrey Epstein.  The Bureau of Prisons has not had a permanent director since May 2018, a leadership vacuum that Attorney General William Barr has not addressed in his six months on the job. 

“Attorney General Barr is right to be upset about the crisis in our federal prisons, but his outrage rings hollow since the Trump Administration has made the situation worse.  The Attorney General should have been well aware of federal prison mismanagement and understaffing before Mr. Epstein’s suicide.  Maybe now that this crisis is getting national press coverage, the Attorney General will finally take steps to address it. 

“I am also calling on Chairman Graham to hold an oversight hearing on the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Every day that passes without action is another day that the safety of prison staff and inmates is at grave risk.”

Durbin has been sounding the alarm about BOP understaffing for more than two years, and asked AG Barr about this during his confirmation hearing.  His answer was noncommittal, at best. 

Serene Gregg, President of American Federation of Government Employees Local 3148, has stated that the Metropolitan Correctional Center is functioning with fewer than 70 percent of the needed correctional officers, forcing many officers to work mandatory overtime and 60- or 70-hour workweeks.

In recent years, the BOP workforce has faced a number of significant challenges—including severe staffing shortages that jeopardize their ability to ensure the safety of inmates, staff, and the public.  These staffing concerns resulted from a hiring freeze imposed by the Trump Administration and implemented by former Attorney General Sessions.  Additional hiring was also delayed after President Trump proposed a Fiscal Year 2019 budget that inexplicably sought to cut an additional 1,168 BOP positions, while projecting an increase in BOP’s prison population.

These staffing shortages have led to widespread reliance on “augmentation,” a practice that forces non-custody staff, such as secretaries, counselors, nurses, and teachers, to work as correctional officers—despite the fact that these employees lack the experience and extensive training of traditional correctional officers.  Augmentation places staff at risk and reduces access to programming, recreation, and education initiatives—all of which are key to maintaining safe facilities and reducing recidivism.