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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 meant to not only reward those in the BOP who go above and beyond in their role, but also provide incentives and morale boosters for the staff. One point clearly stated in the incentive program is that “…. Merit will be the sole basis for granting any award …” so as not to diminish inequities that could undermine the credibility of the awards program and the agency itself. A analysis of these incentive payments at one institution reflects 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 about what they have found.

I received information from a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request filed by Aaron Mcglothin, AFGE local president representing 200 men and women at FCI Mendota, a Medium Security facility with 1,400 prisoners and 95 Minimum Security camp prisoners. Mcglothin said that it is an open secret within the agency that these award payments are squandered on management staff and leave little to front line staff who, especially during COVID-19, literally were on the front line of the pandemic. Mcglothin told me in an interview, “These are secret payments and the best proof of that is that I’m just seeing it for the first time as a result of a FOIA request that took over 6 months to respond to.

These payments are not supposed to be secret at all. Wardens of each prison complex are delegated responsibility for ensuring that there is a comprehensive and equitable incentive awards program that can reward staff with cash bonuses up to $1,500 or paid time off (hours). Each institution also has a committee to review the awards to assure they meet program statement requirements, this includes management and those from the union representing many of the front-line staff within the BOP. Mcglothin told me, “The Union has been denied the opportunity to be a part of the incentive awards program disclosures by Warden Maria Arviza and I’ve filed numerous Unfair Labor Practice charges that have been sustained but nothing has happened happened until the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) general counsel starts to hear cases in court.” Mcglothin has filed a number of grievances against the current . That is when Mcglothin sent in his own FOIA request in October 2021.

The awards data reviewed was for the period September 2019 – September 2021 at Mendota, a span representing one of the most demanding in the BOP’s history as it struggled with managing widespread COVID-19 infections. Over $225,000 in cash awards were given and 25,655 hours of paid time off to employees, union and non-union at Mendota. $155,000 (69%) went to union staff pay-grades, which for the most part represents front line staff, while the remainder went to non-union management ($70,000). At first glance these figures give the appearance of fair distribution but a closer look reveals that these award payments, particularly the dollars, were sent to a select group of senior management.

One person, the names were redacted on the FOIA answer, was head of Recreational Services at the prison, a Grade 11 pay (approximately $80,000/year). This non-bargaining management member earned $3,500 in bonuses and 184 hours of paid time off (4 and half weeks … valued at around $7,000). This during a period when most recreation was discontinued because of COVID-19 protocols. “When you look at what the agency was facing in 2020, we didn’t have the masks, gloves or protective gear to address the pandemic, “Mcglothin said, “so to see the misuse of these funds now just makes me angry.

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McGlothin also pointed to financial management and Human Resources, again two non-bargaining sets of BOP employees at Mendota. Mcglothin said, “These are two areas where there are few interactions with inmates and to have over $19,000 given for a special award in these departments seems not only unfair but out of step with the reality of where incentives for performance need to be.

If you look at Correctional Services union members, the $54,000 in awards paid seems like a big figure, but there are 120 people for an average is $450/person and that is over a two year period . For Correctional Services non-bargaining, there was $15,500 over 13 members … that’s $1,192/person, more than double the amount union members were paid. Mcglothin said, “What is frustrating is that morale in the agency is low, and front line workers, who are difficult to recruit anyway and are doing real dangerous work, see the rich getting richer.”

Mendota is just one of 122 federal institutions and more union presidents are looking into how this program is run nationally. Mcglothin said, “It’s 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 much less get rewarded for the bare minimum.

Source: Forbes

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