The federal prison system paid $1.6 million in bonuses to its top executives and wardens during the past two years despite chronic staffing shortages and sharp critiques of prison management leveled by Congress, reports USA Today. The payments ranged from $5,400 to $23,800 per official. The largest sums went to the agency’s leadership team, including $20,399 to the federal Bureau of Prisons’ acting director, Hugh Hurwitz, and the wardens of prisons who confronted what union officials described as dangerous shortages of guards. Joseph Coakley, who managed the maximum security complex in Hazelton, W.Va., where gangster Whitey Bulger and two other inmates were murdered last year, received $20,399. Coakley, who retired this year, collected an additional $34,500 in 2015 and 2016. Bulger’s murder drew a harsh spotlight to conditions at the Hazelton prison complex, where authorities had long grappled with officer vacancies that persisted at federal prisons generally.
A shortage of prison officers forced wardens to tap secretaries, teachers, nurses, kitchen workers and other nonsecurity staffers to patrol cellblocks, solitary confinement units and prison yards, often with little preparation for those. Known as “augmentation,” the practice was condemned by lawmakers. BOP officials would not say how they decide on the size of wardens’ bonuses, citing security concerns. “Bonuses are given based upon work performance,” the bureau said. “Information contained in the performance award justifications may relate to safety and security and therefore, would not be releasable.” The Bureau of Prisons is the nation’s largest correctional system, responsible for managing 121 facilities that house 180,000 inmates. Last year, Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) cataloged troubling allegations by whistleblowers in a letter to Hurwitz, including sexual harassment complaints against bureau officials, prison security breaches, assaults on guards and persistent staffing shortages.