There are three possibilities for why sensible revisions to the rules governing furloughs for federal inmates have not been implemented some seven years after they were drafted: Prison administrators are incompetent; union rules are impossibly cumbersome; or both. Under any scenario, the delay is absurd.
Typically, federal inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes and with less than two years left on their sentences are allowed furloughs for such purposes as visits with critically ill family members or to receive medical treatment. Most of these furloughs, in which inmates are permitted to travel without supervision, last a matter of days. Inmates also are granted furloughs to travel unescorted to another low-security facility or a halfway house.
The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General released a report last month analyzing the Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) record on furloughs. The BOP generally received adequate marks, although the agency showed sloppiness in handling some records. The agency, as the inspector general's office suggests, should better train prison employees and update its database system to avert a clerical oversight from resulting in the release of a dangerous inmate.
Yet what stands out most is the egregious delay in implementing regulations, drafted in 2003, that would require the BOP to notify crime victims and witnesses of all inmate furloughs - including those for medical reasons, which apparently are not covered by the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982. The rules would also, among other things, require drug testing of all returning inmates.
The report notes that the provisions could affect conditions of employment for prison workers and so have to be reviewed and agreed to by the American Federation of Government Employees' (AFGE) Council of Prison Locals. with the union is negotiated.
Prison officials and union representatives should put aside hostilities and take up the furlough matter as soon as possible.
- Washington Post
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