According to USA Today, the federal prison system paid $1.6 million in bonuses to its top executives and wardens during the past two years despite chronic staffing shortages and sharp critiques of prison management.

The payments, the latest in a series of annual awards, ranged from $5,400 to $23,800 per official.  The largest sums went to the agency's leadership team, including $20,399 to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons' acting director.

Joseph Coakley, who managed the maximum security complex in Hazelton, West Virginia, where notorious gangster Whitey Bulger and two other inmates were murdered last year, received $20,399.  Coakley retired this year.

A shortage of prison officers forced wardens to tap secretaries, teachers, nurses, kitchen workers and other non-security staffers to patrol cellblocks, solitary confinement units and prison yards.

Prison officials would not reveal how they decide on the size of wardens' bonuses, citing security concerns.