Lawmakers on Wednesday criticized the Trump administration for failing to implement reforms aimed at improving findings of mismanagement at the Bureau of Prisons, an issue they said is being exacerbated by underfunding and understaffing.
Of particular concern at the hearing was the bureau's treatment of female federal inmates. The agency has taken swift action to make improvements since a scathing Justice Department inspector general report found an array of flawed policies, Director Hugh Hurwitz told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and is in the process of creating new procedures. The bureau has made feminine hygiene products more readily available, boosted staffing in its Women and Special Populations Branch and ensured compliance with a manual for treatment of female inmates issued in 2016, Hurwitz said.
Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who also testified at the hearing, said his office found the bureau had “not been strategic in its management of female inmates” and its policies “may not fully consider their needs.” Horowitz said that in many ways, the issues affecting the female inmate population are “illustrative of broader challenges associated with BoP’s overall management of the federal prison system.” Facilities are old, understaffed and overcrowded, he said, and fail to provide rehabilitation services that reduce recidivism.
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Hurwitz said the Bureau of Prisons has accepted all of the IG’s recommendations and will update the IG's office by the end of the month on plans to further implement changes.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the only Democrat to appear at the hearing as lawmakers were voting on leadership positions for their caucus, castigated Hurwitz for issues such as the lack of access to hygiene products for female inmates and failure to provide them with trauma services. After Hurwitz explained some of the steps the bureau has taken, Maloney suggested there was an “improvement in management.”
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., called the state of bureau “extremely disturbing,” saying it employed far too many misbehaving employees. Both Hice and Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., suggested the problems at the agency demonstrate the need for changes to federal law to make it easier for agencies to fire their workers. The mismanagement and misconduct at the bureau is “so rampant that it is systemic,” Hice said.
“We’re not just talking about dealing with a few instances,” he added. “There’s an entire culture that must be changed and that’s where the responsibility is going to land on your shoulders. And we’re going to be keeping an eye on that.”
Hurwitz said the bureau is “actively working” to fill any vacant positions it has, noting the agency has made offers to 2,500 applicants over the last six months. He lamented the difficulty in recruiting employees, noting many facilities are in places where people do not want to live. The bureau eliminated about 5,000 authorized but unfilled positions this year.