- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2010

It will take the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) another seven years to implement new policies already seven years old aimed at improving weaknesses in its prison furlough program, a predicament the Justice Department’s internal watchdog on Thursday called “unacceptable.”

The reason is simple: The policy can’t be implemented until BOP can negotiate proposed changes with the union representing prison workers because those changes may alter some working conditions.

But making those changes happen won’t be easy, as BOP and the union meet only one week a month and there are about 50 other proposed policies that also have to be negotiated, according to a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (IG).

While concluding in a report that, in general, that BOP managed its furlough program well, IG investigators said that during the past three years, a total of about 90,000 prisoners received furloughs. And while some received them to attend funerals of family members or other similar personal reasons, the overwhelming majority of furloughs were issued for inmates to finish their sentences at halfway houses or to perform community service.

According to the report, no inmate escaped during a personal furlough; as many as about 350 have escaped, at least briefly, from halfway houses.

Still, the IG remained troubled that the BOP’s furlough policies have not been updated since 1998, and that the bureau predicts it will take seven more years to implement the new policies, which were written in 2003.

“We believe that the BOPs time frame for implementation of this recommendation is excessive and unacceptable,” the report stated. “The policy has been awaiting negotiation for 7 years, and the BOPs response suggests that it will take another 7 years - until 2017 - to negotiate and implement the revised policy.”

In a letter sent to the IG last month, BOP Director Harley Lapin agreed with the importance of implementing the new policies, but gave little hope of implementation anytime soon.

“We will make every effort to negotiate the furlough policy with the Union to implement required changes,” he wrote. “This will be completed by December 31, 2017.”

The BOP did not respond Thursday to a request for comment about the IG report.

The IG concluded that some of the weaknesses found in current furlough policies would be fixed with the adoption of the new policies, such as requiring notification of crime victims and witnesses when inmates are released on a medical furlough.

Other new policies would include limiting the furlough eligibility for inmates who have been found guilty of smuggling drugs into prison or using drugs while incarcerated, requiring staff to conduct interviews of inmates the next business day after they return from a furlough and requiring that furlough applications specify what type of furlough has been approved, such as for medical, educational, or religious purposes.

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