The Federal Tort Claims Act and the Bureau of Prisons: whose sick joke was this?


Here is one of the sick jokes about tackling the Federal Bureau of Prisons under the Federal Tort Claims Act: when (1) damages are often measured by lost wages and medical expenses, and (2) lawyers are limited to no more than a quarter of the pittance that long-term inmates will be out for lost wages and medical costs, (3) even success after years of litigating against the U.S. Government cannot pay enough to justify the hardship on one’s practice, and one’s family.

In too many cases, the only way to really help wronged federal inmates is to accept a multi-year pro bono project that might run into the hundreds of hours. But that is not about the judiciary itself. That is about a Congress that has granted the BOP almost unfettered discretion, and then hidden behind “separation of powers” as a reason not to do any kind of meaningful oversight.

There are exceptions in Congress, and there is good staff and administration in the BOP. But the law is written to support a basic correctional officer philosophy: “I have the keys, and I have the pen, so sue me.”

And then watch the pro se case get brutalized and dismissed before ever reaching the merits.