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Federal Prison System

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) aims to ensure that correctional facilities are safe, humane, cost-efficient, and secure. BOP has faced challenges with correctional facility staffing and maintenance as well as inmate health care costs.

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BOP is responsible for the care and custody of over 180,000 inmates, most of whom are in its 122 institutions. It is also one of DOJ’s largest employers, with about 35,500 employees as of May 2019.   

BOP has addressed some issues with its management and operations but still needs to address its staffing needs, control inmate healthcare costs, and better plan for facility maintenance and repair.

Staffing needs

  • BOP uses retention incentives—for example, increased pay for unusually high or unique employee qualifications—to build and maintain a high-performing workforce. The total amount of money that BOP spent on these incentives increased from $10.7 million in fiscal year 2012 to $14.0 million in fiscal year 2016, and the number of employees receiving them increased from 2,024 to 2,460.
  • BOP's retention incentives for medical professionals accounted for 92 percent of this increased spending—these incentives increased from about $2.7 million in fiscal year 2012 to $5.8 million in fiscal year 2016.

Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) Retention Incentive Expenditures by Occupations, Fiscal Years 2012- 2016

Bureau of Prisons'(BOP) Retention Incentive  Expenditures by Occupations, Fiscal Years 2012- 2016

  • However, BOP has not strategically planned for or evaluated its use of retention incentives. Doing so could help BOP determine whether these incentives are effective or whether adjustments are needed to better retain its employees.

Inmate health care costs

  • BOP is responsible for providing medically necessary medical, dental, and mental health services to inmates. Most services, such as preventive health visits, treatment of short-term health problems, management of long-term diseases like diabetes, and treatment of dental cavities and oral diseases, are provided within BOP's institutions. When BOP is unable to provide a medical service to an inmate in its institutions, it transports the inmate to a medical facility in the community.
  • From fiscal years 2009-2016, BOP obligated more than $9 billion for inmate health care costs—and these obligations rose from $978 million in fiscal year 2009 to $1.34 billion in fiscal year 2016 (an increase of about 37 percent).
  • But BOP lacks certain data (such as the cost, variety, and number of health services provided) that it needs to understand and control its health care costs. BOP has explored and identified some solutions to obtain this data but has not conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis to find the best solution.
  • BOP also has initiatives aimed at controlling health care costs, such as leveraging pharmaceutical purchasing with other agencies and entering into a national contract for medical supplies, but it could better assess their effectiveness.

Select Images of Health Services Facilities and Equipment at Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) Institutions

Select Images of Health Services Facilities and Equipment at Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) Institutions

Facility maintenance and repair

  • About 30 percent of BOP’s institutions are over 50 years old and 43 percent are over 30 years old. The older an institution becomes, the greater its need for repairs and replacement of systems. Deteriorated facilities add to increased risk of escape, inability to lock down cells, and violence over inadequate living conditions.
  • As of fiscal year 2018, BOP had a backlog of 242 major repair and replacement projects at its institutions (at an approximate cost of $542 million). BOP requested $99 million in its 2019 budget request to address this backlog, which will help BOP maintain a safe and productive environment for its inmates and staff.
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  • portrait of Gretta Goodwin
    • Gretta Goodwin
    • Director, Homeland Security and Justice
    • goodwing@gao.gov
    • 202-512-7952