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The Republican party platform has always favored smaller government. Consistent with that platform and true to his business roots, Trump began cutting the fat his first year in office by eliminating nearly 2000 Bureau of Prisons Jobs. A move that was quickly followed up by a legislative push for prison reforms.
Ostensibly in support of that agenda, Attorney General William Barr accompanied BOP director Horowitz on a visit to the Federal Correctional Institution in Edgefield South Carolina. The prison received glowing praise from AG Barr and the state and Federal VIP’s who accompanied him, including Senator Lindsey Graham. AG Barr would go on to fire Director Horowitz and a Warden in the wake of the Epstein death. However, the prison he just visited with Director Horowitz and conferred his praise upon has the same conditions (but to a greater degree) which led to his removal of those officials.
A few short weeks after AG bar visited the Edgefield prison it had to be placed on a month-long lock-down (an unprecedented duration for that facility and exceptional for any similarly situated facility). The lock-down was actually the culmination of several lesser lock-downs (one occurring just two weeks prior) and other emergency security measures implemented this year alone. According to internal memorandum the month-long lock-down was necessary due to official’s inability to contain violence and disruptive activities associated with cell phones, drugs and other contraband. For years, the prison has been operating under some form or other of modified operations, according to official documents for this same reason. These modified operations have reduced access to educational/recreational and rehabilitative opportunities (already meager) at the prison. Entire portions of the institution have even had to be made inaccessible completely due to officials’ inability to control those areas; And according, once again, to officials long-sad refrain, for the same reasons cited above.
The prison, one of several in the Carolinas, houses inmates from as far away as New York and Chicago and has been called by some Bureau officials materially and geographically redundant. The prison is in a crisis state of disrepair, a fact concealed by gallons of paint, official sophistry and misdirection. Significant financial infusions have been required to keep critical systems functioning and to amend decades of graft, mismanagement and misappropriation. Decades of this misappropriation include funds being indirectly converted for personal aggrandizement and diverted from maintenance and up-keep. This fraudulent management is systemic, long-standing and has compromised the physical infrastructure and security of the facility. According to internal documents, the dilapidation has been exploited for years by violent criminal gangs for production, storage and dissemination of alcohol, drugs, weapons and other contraband. The recent month-long lock-down was extended, in part, to try to patch-up some of these breeches; However, officials’ efforts were mainly cosmetic and amount to nothing more than a band-aid.
Investigations of these conditions and the fraud and misappropriation occasioning them have been superficial and have not looked deeply enough or high enough. (Regional / Central office level complicity) These investigations are largely high-level cover-ups resulting in a warden or department head being scapegoated.
Speaking of Scapegoats, let’s get back to Director Horowitz and the Warden of MDC Manhattan….
We will give Attorney General Barr the benefit of the doubt and assume that the BOP mislead and deceived him when he visited its Edgefield facility; But the conditions which caused or permitted the death of Mr. Epstein, and led to the removal of these officials, were not unique to the facility where Mr. Epstein was being housed. They are standard operating procedures deliberately adopted by the BOP as a counter-strategy to the Presidents attempts to reduce the size of government (including the over-bloated, ineffective Bureaucratic monstrosity known as the Federal Bureau of Prisons.)
[lockdowns are not a management tool; they are a crisis abatement tool; They represent the inability to manage
the prison. institutions like Edgefield which lurch from crisis to crisis are management failures, these
failures, combined with the violence, and recidivism record place the bureau in performance category
that no business would tolerate]
This standard operating procedure has been implemented with similar consequence at BOP facilities across the country, including FCI Edgefield where AG Barr just visited and gave the thumbs up to.
Jeffery Epstein was an identified suicide threat but was not being housed under the heightened security/treatment protocols established for high-risk prisoners or those evidencing suicidal ideation. This situation is remarkable only due to the stature of the prisoner; Such decisions (non-adherence to policy, proven safety/security protocols and industry standards) have become standard operating procedure at prisons across the Bureau as local officials grapple with the ground-zero logistical conundrums created by Bureaucrats too far removed from their decision to understand their consequences; Or simply indifferent to them. As a routine matter, local officials have largely abandoned many of those safety-security protocols in order to complete the Bureau’s mission within the constraints imposed by a misalignment of human resources, an over-extended labor force, and tighter budgetary controls.
In 2016 The Trump Administration reduced the BOP’s labor force by about 2000 employees. A subsequent hiring freeze, combined with retirements and normal attrition (turn-over, terminations) have further reduced the labor force. These staffing changes have deliberately coincided with projected and actual reductions in the BOP’s prison population. (additional reductions are anticipated but are contingent upon the BOP’s implementation of Legislation and Administration policies intended to bring about those reductions) The natural and unavoidable consequence of these twin developments (reductions in staff and reductions in population) is a corresponding downsizing of structural and material commitments.
The temporary deactivation of some Bureau facilities and the consolidation of populations, staffing and resources at the remaining facilities is the only competent operational model that can meet existing and projected needs and policy objectives. However, instead of conforming its massive footprint to the shifting policy objectives, shifting political imperatives, shifting demographics, shifting operational pressures, and the smart-on-crime agenda of Congress, the President and the public, the BOP is instead trying to fight the paradigm shift and maintain scale. The BOP has committed to maintaining all of its properties and physical infrastructure in an active operational capacity. One of the ways it is accomplishing this is by spreading its staff as thinly as possible across as many facilities as possible and concentrating inmates within those institutions into as small a space as possible in order to allow fewer staff to supervise more inmates. And placing greater restraints on inmates, which has been shown to adversely impact reintegration into society.
This strategy is difficult to explain because the Bureau did an exhaustive and rigorous study in which it concluded that those staff-to-inmate ratios resulted in more violence, disruption and infraction of the rules; Exactly the type of problem that Edgefield has been experiencing and was recently on lock-down for. What is even more inexplicable however, is why is the Department of Justice Hiding money from the President?
The Federal Bureau of Prisons is the Department of Justice’s second largest and fastest growing budgetary expenditure. The White House recently ordered all agencies to conduct internal audits to identify areas where budgetary compromises could be made to re-purpose funds to meet the President’s national security goals on border-security. Funds for this purpose have been scrounged from some very controversial sources such as the military and FEMA. The DOJ, however, does not have to scavenge its budgets to locate the type of funding the President is looking for. Simple compliance by the BOP with the Presidents unrelated criminal justice/prison reform agenda would liberate enough funds to accomplish the Presidents border-security goals almost by itself. Why is the DOJ concealing this funding source from the President?
The answer, according to anecdotal reports is that the BOP is quietly engaged in an undeclared insurrection against the President and his reform agenda. Staff report subtle pressure from union officials to acquiesce to dangerous and exploitative labor practices (See: Blog post at straightfromthepen.com) in order to outlast an administration, which it is convinced will not survive the 2020 election cycle; An outcome that it is quietly organizing and working in support of.
In a rare occasion of agreement, union officials and Bureau executive management have united behind the scenes in opposition to efforts by the Trump administration to reform and streamline the agency. The Bureau of Prisons, fed by the funding cornucopia ushered in by the Clinton administration and “big-government style policies, grew into a behemoth organization requiring more of the DOJ’s budget that any other agency but the FBI (and it is fast on the FBI’s heels). However, despite its insatiable appetite for dollars and lives, the BOP under-performs its lesser-funded state counterparts on nearly every metric and has a dismal record on recidivism.
In addition to allowing the BOP’s mutiny on Criminal Justice/Prison Reform, the DOJ itself is quietly spending millions of dollars and resources in its own insurrection against the President’s policies. While the President is touting and being praised for his landmark legislative victory Mr. Barr’s attorney’s general are busy spending copious limited resources making sure as many prisoners as possible do not “actually ” benefit from those reforms. Almost without exception the Government has summarily opposed every motion submitted to the court seeking relief under those reforms; Even when the petitioner is clearly entitled to relief or where the opposition is based solely upon technicalities. The Government has, in some cases, spent thousands of dollars in time and resources fighting to deny relief as meager as a few months, and where the petitioners had already spent decades behind bars and would clearly have received a far shorter sentence had they been sentenced today.
So, what does any of this have to do with Jeffery Epstein? Everything! The Department of Justice was once an unassailable bastion of public trust. The removal of the Director of the BOP in the fall-out of the Epstein death is the type of swift, decisive accountability which once made American institutions like the DOJ great. However, in the wake of the Attorney General’s actions questions swirl instead about his motivations. Was it political posturing? Deflection? Scapegoating? Or was the Head of the Department of Justice trying to make that American institution great again…. There are mixed messages coming from the DOJ which make it hard to tell. Across the nation the DOJ is spending millions of tax-dollars in a knee-jerk effort to uphold sentences that the people, the Congress and the President say are unjust, fiscally unsound, and which do not reflect who we are as a society. (perhaps the only such political consensus besides 9/11 in over one hundred years)
Perhaps the AG was duped by the BOP, but the prison (Edgefield FCI) he just visited and sang the praises of is ripe with the very same problems he just removed Acting Director Horowitz for. And despite those removals, nothing has been done to address the underlying issues.
If he is indeed trying to make the DOJ “Great Again”, he has a lot more work to do at the Departments second most costly, fastest growing, and least effective agency. But the bottom line is that our prisons are full of people whom the latest criminal justice research says don’t need to be there; That fiscal imperatives say we cannot afford to keep there; And that the Congress, the President and the public say that they don’t want there. The resources which the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons are expending on those people divert resources and leave wardens and their prisons overextended. It is predictable, inevitable, and all too common that people will fall thorough those gaps. The only thing unique about the Jeffery Epstein situation is his celebrity; Other than that, it is just business as usual for the BOP.
[For a previous article by the same author, go to https://straightfromthepen.com/2019/04/29/prisoner-requests-pro-bono-civil-litigation-assistance/ ]