Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Disciplinary System
Report Number I-2004-008
An equitable disciplinary system provides reasonable, consistent, and timely discipline for all employees. By addressing the issues identified in this report, we believe that the BOP can better ensure that its disciplinary decisions meet these basic goals.
BOP disciplinary decisions sometimes did not appear to be reasonable. First, for some cases with serious sustained allegations, the CEOs unilaterally took no disciplinary action or imposed informal discipline without fully adjudicating the cases or documenting their reasons for taking these actions. Second, some penalties did not appear reasonable when the CEOs, in their role as deciding officials, mitigated proposed discipline without adequately explaining their reasons in the decision letter as required. Third, CEOs review and have the opportunity to influence investigation reports for cases in which they also act as the deciding officials. This can compromise the independence of the investigative and adjudicative phases of the BOP disciplinary process and create the potential for unreasonable outcomes.
In addition, BOP guidance instructs CEOs to impose similar penalties for similar misconduct and circumstances at each institution. However, the BOP does not require that employees in comparable facilities receive similar penalties for similar infractions. Instead, the BOP requires only that the CEOs, as deciding officials in each of its facilities, be consistent with their own prior decisions, because that is the level of consistency that is required for the MSPB to sustain the agency's disciplinary decisions if the employee appeals. Notwithstanding the MSPB requirements, an equitable disciplinary system should ensure that all BOP employees receive substantially similar discipline for similar infractions.
Finally, the BOP did not consistently process employee misconduct cases in a timely manner. The BOP did not report allegations of employee misconduct to the proper authorities within the required time frames. In addition, the BOP has not established written standards for measuring the timeliness of the investigative or adjudicative phases of its disciplinary system.
We make ten recommendations to help the BOP ensure that its disciplinary decisions are reasonable, consistent, and timely. The recommendations focus on ensuring that the investigative and adjudicative phases of the disciplinary system function independently and that sustained misconduct allegations are fully adjudicated; the reasons for mitigating discipline are adequately documented; BOP employees receive similar penalties for similar infractions BOP-wide; misconduct cases are investigated and adjudicated in a timely manner; and that the BOP develops controls to monitor disciplinary decisions for consistency throughout the BOP.
We recommend that the BOP: