2023 GAO, High Risk Update: Management of the Federal Prison System

2023 GAO, High Risk Update: Management of the Federal Prison System

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress.

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Transcript for: High Risk Update 2023:

Management of the Federal Prison System Description:

As part of GAO’s 2023 update to our High-Risk List, we added the Bureau of Prisons for staffing issues that can affect inmate and staff safety, and the need to better monitor rehabilitation programs that help inmates return to the community.

Related GAO work: GAO-23-106203, High-Risk Series: Efforts Made to Achieve Progress Need to Be Maintained and Expanded to Fully Address All Areas Released: April 2023 [Gretta Goodwin:] Nearly 45% of federal prisoners who complete their time in prison are re-arrested or returned to federal prison within 3 years of their release. The Bureau of Prisons, or BOP, is charged with providing safe and secure confinement for inmates and with reducing recidivism by helping people successfully return to the community.

While BOP received $8.5 billion in the current fiscal year to do this, it continues to face challenges in its efforts to manage the federal prison system. We have reported longstanding and increasing concerns with the federal prison system across three areas. For 2023, we added Management of the Federal Prison System to our High-Risk List to help BOP focus its attention on the root causes of these matters, as well as the more than 20 recommendations we’ve made in these areas.

First, BOP has had challenges managing its staff and resources. For example, there have been six different individuals serving as BOP directors in the past 6 years. BOP also has increasingly used overtime to address staff vacancies. But that’s not a solution because officer fatigue presents a serious threat to prison safety.

Second, BOP’s plans to manage some of its inmate rehabilitation programs are limited. These programs require better planning and ongoing review for BOP to be successful in reducing some incarcerated individual sentences through credit-earning programs and in lowering the rates of recidivism.

Third, BOP needs to improve how it monitors and evaluates all of its programs. Some efforts that haven’t yet been evaluated include BOP’s management of disaster risk at its facilities, efforts to help incarcerated individuals secure ID documents before they leave prison, and the delivery of programs that may lower the risk of recidivism.

In March 2023, we recommended that BOP monitor whether it’s offering enough recidivism reduction programs. GAO and BOP leadership recently met on these issues, and the new Director of the Bureau of Prisons expressed her commitment to bringing sustained attention to resolving this high-risk area. In addition to sustaining leadership commitment, BOP needs to address the other four criteria for which GAO assesses high-risk areas–capacity, an action plan, monitoring efforts, and demonstrated progress. Attention to these and other issues we’ve identified could ultimately improve prison safety, reduce recidivism, and save taxpayers money.

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