The Bureau of Prisons is responsible for keeping prisoners locked away. However, it may have locked away much more than that. The Bureau has long drawn unwanted attention for its culture of secrecy and coverups, and new cracks have exposed a scandalous series of abuses.
Recent reports by the Associated Press have revealed the latest Bureau crisis. This time, the reports claim that top Bureau officials have illegally retaliated against whistleblowers. The whistleblowers had come forth with allegations that staff and even a warden had sexually abused inmates at a women’s prison. In turn, they claim that Bureau officials are bullying and threatening them.
This isn’t the only time whistleblowers have faced retaliation
The unfortunate fact is that whistleblower retaliation is commonplace. This is true both in the federal government and the private sector.
More specifically, the Bureau of Prisons has a demonstrated history of whistleblower retaliation. This retaliation can take all forms, and various whistleblowers within the Bureau say they have suffered:
- Frivolous disciplinary actions
Notably, the threat of discipline is often effective because, even when the discipline isn’t warranted, the actions can slow an employee’s career track.
And these aren’t all the ways employees have suffered retaliation. One worker said a warden retaliated against him by sending his email and address to all the other staff. This would appear to invite those staff to make abusive comments and threats.
How do whistleblowers find their way to justice?
A previous whistleblower’s case against the Bureau of Prisons offers one example of how people can seek justice after suffering retaliation. It wasn’t easy. It took multiple steps and years. But in the end, the whistleblower won the justice he deserved:
- In 2009, the whistleblower reported what he felt were the mismanagement of funds in a prison factory. Shortly afterward, the Office of the Inspector General launched an investigation.
- The whistleblower’s Warden then demoted the whistleblower, reassigning him to custodial and night duties.
- In response, the whistleblower filed a legal action. Importantly, he filed according to the correct law for his concerns.
- An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled in the whistleblower’s favor.
- The Bureau appealed and won its appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). In its appeal, the Bureau argued it had reassigned the employee based on merits.
- However, the whistleblower appealed to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. There, he successfully argued that his record as an employee showed he was valued and respected. The Court of Appeals overturned the MSPB’s ruling, and the whistleblower won repayment for the damage to his career.
While this whistleblower’s story shows that it is possible to win justice for retaliation, it also shows that the process can be challenging. By no measure was his case “clear sailing.”
First, his case began with retaliation. Then, after the whistleblower won with the ALJ, the Bureau pushed back. The Bureau then won with the MSPB. You have to imagine the whistleblower was incredibly tired and stressed by that point, but he persevered. And only after fighting for years to uphold his rights—and to shine a light on the Bureau’s abuses—did he finally win his appeal with the Federal Circuit Court.
Those who do the right thing might expect a battle
Sadly, as we noted earlier, neither the whistleblower from 2009 nor those who recently called out the Bureau’s ongoing sexual abuses should have expected an easy path. Nor should anyone thinking of blowing the whistle. The law protects you from retaliation, but retaliation is still the norm.
Thankfully, it is possible to do the right thing and still move forward. The key is to expect the battle and take the right steps to protect yourself from the very beginning.