Federal prisons get LGBT reps
by Timothy Cwiek
Aug 30, 2012 | 1998 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Federal Bureau of Prisons recently supplemented its workplace-diversity program by adding an LGBT representative at each of its 125 prisons and administrative offices nationwide.

BOP director Charles E. Samuels Jr. outlined the new initiative in a memo issued in March.

“We should cultivate tolerance and embrace our differences,” Samuels stated in the memo.

Chris Burke, a spokesperson for the BOP, said every BOP facility has a designated LGBT representative.

Additionally, the BOP recently committed to hosting at least one event a year at each BOP facility that specifically addresses LGBT issues, he said.

The new duties of the LGBT representatives will be folded into their existing job responsibilities — and won’t exceed 20 percent of their overall tasks.

“[The representatives] are authorized to spend up to 20 percent of their official on-duty time to perform their affirmative-action responsibilities,” Burke clarified.

The representatives were selected from a variety of BOP positions, including associate warden, correctional officer, secretary, counselor, case manager and food-service worker, he said.

He said the new special-emphasis program managers aren’t required to be members of the LGBT community, though some may be.

Two LGBT representatives have been designated in Philadelphia.

One is employed at the Federal Detention Center at 700 Arch St., and the other is employed at BOP’s Northeast Regional Office at 200 Chestnut St.

Their names haven’t been released to the public, and they’re not available for interviews, Burke said.

Hispanics, African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, women and disabled veterans also have BOP representatives, he said.

“Each of these groups bring certain strengths that help us complete our mission,” Burke added. “If you have a homogeneous workforce, you’re only going to get one point of view.”

He said the representatives serve on BOP workforce-diversity committees and help coordinate efforts with other BOP staffers to ensure an equitable work environment for all.

“All program managers assist in identifying employment barriers and developing strategies to eliminate them in recruiting, hiring, training, educating and retaining a diverse workforce.”

Burke noted the BOP has a longstanding policy of promoting diversity in its workforce.

“When you have an agency that deals with such a diverse inmate population like ours — a lot of different people with different backgrounds — having that diverse workforce really helps us.”

It’s hoped the new LGBT representatives will help foster a climate of dignity and respect within BOP’s workforce, he said.

“We are always concerned with our staff working in an environment free of harassment,” said Burke. “Our agency has a zero-tolerance policy on harassment. Our objective is not to increase cultural visibility of the LGBT community in the workplace, but rather to ensure that discriminatory practices are addressed.”

LGBT inmates will have no direct role in the new initiative, but they may benefit from it indirectly, Burke said.

“All special-emphasis program managers are assigned to educate staff, which also helps in the supervision of inmates from all backgrounds, including culture, race, gender and sexual orientation. Through educating and training our staff regarding the special-emphasis program, the desired result is enhanced communication and promotion of better understanding of all special-emphasis groups, which will have a positive impact on staff and inmates.”

The LGBT representatives also will assist the BOP with employee-recruitment efforts, and are encouraged to develop contacts with LGBT community groups, he said.

Venues where such recruitment might take place include LGBT Pride events, job fairs and meetings held by local community organizations, Burke said.

“We strive for a more diverse workforce, which includes recruiting from the LGBT community,” he said. “Each institution determines recruitment needs and identifies recruitment initiatives.”

Additionally, the LGBT representatives will help organize annual diversity-inclusion days at every BOP facility, focusing on a wide range of cultural issues.

Those events are part of an ongoing multicultural-awareness program sponsored by the BOP, he said.

In June, LGBT issues were addressed in diversity-inclusion days hosted throughout the agency.

Brian P. Winfield, managing director for Equality Florida, an LGBT civil-rights group that advocated for support for LGBT prison employees, praised the BOP for implementing the new initiative.

Winfield assisted employees at the Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Fla., to achieve greater visibility for LGBT issues there, he said.

“It’s gratifying to see the Bureau of Prisons adding the LGBT community to its already-existing affirmative-employment program,” he told PGN. “Educating Bureau of Prison staff members — and making them more aware of LGBT cultural issues — can only improve the climate within the prison system for both LGBT staff and inmates.”

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