5 Surprisingly Obvious Standards of Conduct for Prison Guards


By Christopher Zoukis

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is an executive level agency that oversees all federal prisons. It is authorized and paid for by Congress, but managed by regulation and policy statements ("Program Statements" in Bureau parlance). All employees of the Bureau of Prisons are subject to certain standards of conduct, described by federal regulation and Bureau program statements.

Program Statement 3420.11,Attachment A, lists 56 possible violations of the standards of employee conduct, as well as suggested punishments for initial and subsequent offenses.

Here are five interesting ways in which Bureau of Prisons guards may violate the standards:

1. Failure to Honor Just Debts Without Good Cause

Apparently, Bureau employees are required to pay their bills. Failure to pay a financial obligation acknowledged by the employee can lead to an official reprimand for the first offense, up to discharge for three repeated offenses in a two-year period. And it gets worse. If a Bureau employee receives a "legally valid" garnishment order, she may be disciplined on that basis alone. Attention Bureau of Prisons guards: check your credit!

2. Disrespectful Conduct, Use of Insulting, Abusive, or Obscene Language to or About Others

This interesting violation includes "verbal abuse" of inmates, as employees are required to conduct themselves in a manner that will not be demeaning to others. The penalties for verbally abusing inmates range from an official reprimand to discharge for repeated violations. One wonders whether any Bureau of Prisons prison guard has ever been terminated for this violation. Based on my own experience, living in federal prison for the past decade, if this rule is enforced at all, there would be a LOT of reprimands out there.

3. Inattention to Duty

A Bureau of Prisons employee engaged in "loafing, wasting time, idleness or unproductive activities" is subject to sanctions. According to the program statement, "inattention to duty in a correctional environment can result in escapes, assaults and other incidents." The Bureau considers this one pretty important, and a first offense can result in discharge. The third violation of this standard in a two-year period requires termination. Bureau of Prisons staff, including guards, are human of course -- and employees of the federal government. You can be sure there is some loafing going on in the Bureau of Prisons.

4. Physical Abuse of an Inmate

This one is amusing, because in a prison setting, if there is ANY physical contact between a guard and a prisoner, it is virtually guaranteed that the prisoner will be physically abused. Noteworthy is that "in determining the severity of the penalty, the circumstances of the incident (were the employee's actions totally unwarranted?) should be given more consideration than the presence or absence of physical injury." So, in considering the sanctions, which range from a reprimand to discharge, supervisors must give more weight to the reason the prisoner was abused than any injury the prisoner suffered.

5. Failure to Report a Violation of the Standards of Conduct, or Retaliation or Discrimination Against Those Who Make Such a Report

This standard requires Bureau of Prisons employees, including guards, to tell on each other. The penalties for failure to tell can range from a reprimand to removal for three violations in a two-year period. Of course, Bureau prison guards likely maintain a code of silence, just as police behind the "blue wall" do. It is interesting to note that Bureau guards are required by policy to tell on each other. But -- in my experience -- they don't.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com