The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has an incentive program called the Bureau of Prisons Awards Program (Program Statement 3451.04). These, according to the program statement, are meritorious awards intended not only to reward BOP members who go above and beyond their role, but also to provide incentives and boost staff morale. A clearly stated point in the incentive program is that “…. Merit shall be the sole basis for the awarding of any prize…so as not to diminish inequalities that could undermine the credibility of the awards program and the agency itself. An analysis of these incentive payments at one institution shows that the BOP should be looking at all institutions to make sure they are meeting their lofty program statement goals because union members are not happy with what they have. found.
I received information from a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request filed by Aaron Mcglothin, local AFGE president representing 200 men and women at FCI Mendota, a medium-security facility with 1,400 prisoners. and 95 prisoners from the minimum-security camp. Mcglothin said it’s an open secret within the agency that these reward payments are wasted on senior staff and leave little to frontline staff who, especially during COVID-19, were literally on the front end. pandemic line. Mcglothin told me in an interview, “These are secret payments and the best proof of this is that I see this for the first time following a FOIA request that took over 6 months to complete.”
These payments are not supposed to be secret at all. Wardens at each prison complex have delegated responsibility for ensuring there is a comprehensive and fair incentive rewards program that can reward staff with cash bonuses of up to $1,500 or paid time off (hours) . Each facility also has a committee to review awards to ensure they meet the requirements of the program statement, which includes management and those from the union representing many frontline staff at the within the BOP. Mcglothin said to me: “The union was denied the opportunity to be part of the incentive rewards program disclosures by manager Maria Arviza and I filed numerous unfair labor practice charges which were upheld, but nothing happened until until the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) General Counsel begins to hear cases in court.“Mcglothin filed a number of contrarian grievances. That’s when Mcglothin sent his own FOIA request in October 2021.
The awards data reviewed was for the period of September 2019 through September 2021 in Mendota, a period representing one of the most demanding in BOP history as it struggled to manage widespread COVID-19 infections. More than $225,000 in cash rewards were given and 25,655 hours of paid time off to Mendota employees, union and non-union. $155,000 (69%) went to pay grades for unionized staff, which mostly represent front-line staff, while the remainder went to non-union management ($70,000). At first glance, these numbers give the appearance of a fair distribution, but closer examination reveals that these reward payments, specifically the dollars, were sent to a select group of senior executives.
One person, whose names were redacted in the FOIA response, was in charge of the prison’s recreational services, an 11th grade salary (approximately $80,000/year). This non-union executive earned $3,500 in bonuses and 184 hours of paid time off (4 1/2 weeks…valued at about $7,000). This during a time when most recreation has been halted due to COVID-19 protocols. “When you look at what the agency faced in 2020, we didn’t have the masks, the gloves, or the protective gear to deal with the pandemic, “Mcglothin said:”so to see the misuse of these funds now makes me angry.”
McGlothin also pointed to financial management and human resources, again two groups of non-union BOP employees at Mendota. Mcglothin said: “These are two areas where there is little interaction with inmates and receiving over $19,000 for a special award in these departments not only seems unfair, but out of step with the reality of performance incentives.”
If you look at the members of the corrections union, the $54,000 in compensation paid seems like a big number, but there are 120 people for an average of $450/person over a two-year period. For non-union corrections, there was $15,500 over 13 members…that’s $1,192/person, more than double the amount union members were getting. Mcglothin said: “What’s frustrating is that agency morale is at rock bottom and the frontline workers, who are hard to recruit anyway and do really dangerous work, are watching the rich get richer.
Mendota is just one of 122 federal institutions, and more and more union presidents are studying how this program is run nationwide. Mcglothin said: “It is waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayers’ money. I’m disgusted at how much money is given to these people who can’t even do their own job half the time let alone get rewarded for the bare minimum.”