The White House’s Office of Personnel Management approved retention bonuses for federal prison officers and non-custody workers in four states last week, with more bonuses potentially to come.

The Department of Justice, which includes the Bureau of Prisons, requested a 25% retention bonus for employees at eight facilities in California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado.

In April, the bureau announced it was looking into ways to retain corrections officers amid a shortage of workers and complaints from employees of untenable overtime schedules and increased safety concerns on the job.

The Associated Press found nearly a third of federal correctional officer positions were vacant in 2021, and staffing overall has dropped 20% in the last seven years.

“Our correctional officers and support staff are overworked, underpaid and putting themselves in harms’ way every time they go to work,” said Brandy Moore White, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees council 33, in a statement Tuesday. “These retention bonuses will encourage more of our employees to stay on the job and will help the agency’s recruitment efforts.

The union, which represents 30,000 correctional officers and staff, has been pushing with the support of some lawmakers for recruitment reforms for employees across the country. Some prison locals have already received bonuses, including United States Penitentiary Thomson in Illinois, while others may be next in line pending review of additional requests.

In a letter outlining worker shortages in her district’s facility, Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Colorado wrote to the Bureau of Prisons, saying direct hire positions had been exhausted and additional support was required to staff up and alleviate pressure on employees who picked up overtime to ensure continuity.

Retention bonuses were previously capped at 10%, according to Petersen, hency requests to OPM to increase them.

For many of the workers who have been promised a raise, the ongoing uncertainty surrounding budget negotiations dims the impact of the reforms if Congress faces another shutdown once the current stopgap bill expires after Nov. 17.

Jon Zumkehr, president of AFGE local 4070 in Illinois, said in a statement last week that corrections officers would be required to continue working during a shutdown, potentially without pay.

He said that retention bonuses could be impacted, leaving 147 staff at USP Thomson to consider leaving their jobs if they are scrapped. Meanwhile there are 50 new openings to fill following a recent announcement to convert the facility to a low-security prison, he said.

Last month, BOP Director Colette Peters testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that 88% of funded positions are filled.

“Our hiring strategy includes collaboration with external recruitment experts, resulting in a comprehensive, data-driven recruitment campaign,” she said.

The following facilities have been authorized to pay recruitment bonuses, as of Oct. 3:

  • Federal Correctional Institution Dublin, California
  • Federal Correctional Institute Herlong, California
  • Metropolitan Correctional Center San Diego, California
  • Metropolitan Detention Center Los Angeles, California
  • United States Penitentiary Atwater, California
  • Federal Correctional Complex Florence, Colorado
  • Federal Correctional Institution Sheridan, Oregon
  • Federal Detention Center SeaTac, Washington

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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