Supermax prison staff in Colorado get bigger retention bonus following high turnover

Government shutdown would delay implementation of new bonuses, further burden prison staff

By: - September 26, 2023 4:57 pm

A view of the entrance to the Florence Federal Correctional Complex. (Google Maps)

All staff members at the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, the most secure federal prison in America, will receive a 25% retention bonus.

The so-called “supermax” prison has been working through staffing difficulties for years, with high turnover amid difficult working conditions and forced overtime. The American Federation of Government Employees Local 1169, the union that represents about 640 members employed at FCC Florence, has advocated higher retention bonuses for all new employees since a federal hiring freeze during the pandemic in 2020. 

“For too long, staff at FCC Florence have faced low pay and forced overtime that made it hard to recruit new workers and led to dangerous conditions at the facility,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement. “By answering our call to increase pay at FCC Florence, the Biden Administration took an important step to ensure a safe environment for BOP staff, the surrounding communities, and the inmate population.”


In July 2022, members of Colorado’s federal delegation secured a 25% retention bonus for correctional officers but only a 10% retention bonus for non-custody staff like educators and counselors. Both of Colorado’s senators as well as Rep. Brittany Pettersen celebrated the decision from the Office of Personnel Management extending a 25% bonus to all. 

“A prison that is fully-staffed is a safe one — otherwise, these conditions lead to forced overtime and dangerous conditions for the workers and the prisoners,” Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat, said in a statement. “Because of the hard work of the AFGE 1169 union, I’m thrilled to announce that our requests for increased retention bonuses have gone through, but we have to keep working to improve conditions and morale at the nation’s only supermax facility.”

Government shut-down looms

John Butkovich, president of AFGE Local 1169, said it’s a “big relief to finally” see a 25% retention bonus approved. He said he’s hopeful that FCC Florence will be better able to attract and retain staff from around the country — so long as the federal government doesn’t shut down. 

“If we’re shut down and … nobody from HR or central office staff are in office to process it, this will likely be delayed even longer even though it’s been authorized,” Butkovich said. 

Congress needs to approve the federal government’s annual funding by Oct. 1, and if it fails to do so, the federal government will enter a partial shut down until a deal is reached. 

Having worked at the prison through two previous government shutdowns, Butkovich said the experience is “horrible.” He said the last time it happened, staff at the prison in Florence missed two paychecks while still working at the prison. 

“With the high cost of everything now, especially housing here in southern Colorado, these people … they’re relying on the government to pay them,” Butkovich said. 

The union has also advocated FCC Florence be granted the ability to hire its own staff as a way to get new hires started quicker. Typically, interested applicants need to go through human resources at the Bureau of Prison’s Grand Prairie, Texas, location, which can take up to seven months. The FCC Florence human resources team can get a new hire working within 45 days. 

Butkovich said that on Oct. 1, FCC Florence will get the ability to onboard more employees through this “direct-hire authority,” but only if the federal government doesn’t shut down. He said union members have been lobbying all members of the southern Colorado federal delegation in hopes of avoiding a shut down. 

Despite the pending possibility of a shutdown, Butkovich said he’s confident the prison will be in a better spot by the end of the year since the benefits of the jobs are now more appealing.

The Supermax Administrative Maximum Facility, sometimes called “The Alcatraz of the Rockies,” is one of the facilities at FCC Florence. It houses high-profile criminals, including drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev. It is the nation’s highest-security prison, located in Fremont County in Pettersen’s 7th Congressional District.

“Understaffing due to unusually low wages at the only federal supermax facility is absurd,” Colorado’s junior U.S. senator, John Hickenlooper, said in a statement. “Retention bonuses for the case managers, counselors, maintenance, and administrative staff working at FCC Florence rightly compensate Coloradans for the challenging jobs they do and will make the facility a safer and more dignified place — for employees and inmates alike.” 


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Lindsey Toomer
Lindsey Toomer

Lindsey Toomer covers politics, social justice and other stories for Newsline. She formerly reported on city government at the Denver Gazette and on Colorado mountain town government, education and environment at the Summit Daily News.