The GED Scam

Within an organization as dysfunctional as the Federal Bureau of Prisons, what area is the worst of the worst here? That's a tough one, but at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp, my vote goes to the education department. It's two functional priorities for the camp are to 1) make sure the education building is closed as much as possible, and 2) make sure the law library is closed from 11:00am to 12:30pm every day. That's when the law clerk used to take a lunch break. Of course we haven't had a law clerk in over 5 years because we don't have any law books. Anything educational that takes here happens in spite of the BOP. But just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I've stumbled upon a third function. For the sake of discussion, let's call it the GED Scam. With a little background information for context, here's how it works.

In the federal criminal justice system, after a defendant's conviction or pleading but before sentencing, the US Probation Service compiles a Pre-Sentencing Investigation Report, aka PSI, aka PSR. This report includes a thorough history of the defendant down to the number and the exact location of all tattoos. It also makes a recommendation regarding the sentencing level, using the federal guidelines. The judge often takes this recommendation, but can depart upward or downward in sentencing.

Unknown to essentially all first-time offenders, the PSR is an extremely important document once incarceration begins because it becomes a guide for the BOP to do harmful (from the inmate's perspective) things or an excuse to not do helpful things. For example, the report, if not accurate, could effect an inmate's custody level placing him/her in a higher security prison. In addition, all medications or prior illnesses or surgeries need to be in the report. Otherwise, good luck on getting those medications or any accommodations for a prior medical condition.

One area covered in the report is education. In completing the report, the probation officer should confirm high school, college, and post graduate education. However, the report's information is sometimes not accepted by the BoP, and a cash flow opportunity is created.

For example, there are several inmates here currently enrolled in the GED class who have high school diplomas, some even with military service or college hours. I guess it could be a coincidence that the BoP education department gets funding for any inmate enrolled in the GED class.

I guess it could also be a coincidence that it can take up to 10 months (and counting) for an inmate to prove he shouldn't be in the class because "the verification came from the wrong source" or "we gave you the wrong form" or "we didn't get the returned form" or all of the above. Of course, all the while the teacher's response is (paraphrased), "I don't handle the forms, but you need to come to class everyday and login while I'm reading the paper or taking a smoke break. There is absolutely no hurry, but ultimately I want you to take the test, which you will easily pass since you graduated from high school. That will ensure we get the maximum funding."

We're a small camp of 175 inmates, but we can multiply this practice by many large prisons around the country over many years. As scams go, this one is not that bad. But then again, we're talking about the federal government. It's not like it's real money.