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 Federal Prison Oversight Bill 

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Michael Santos

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New legislation would overhaul federal prison oversight – charging DOJ Inspector General to conduct vigorous oversight & creating a new independent Ombudsman to investigate health & safety concerns in federal prisons

Federal Prison Oversight:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senators Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Mike Braun (R-IN) today introduced bipartisan legislation to overhaul federal prison oversight.  The Federal Prison Oversight Act will require the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) to conduct comprehensive, risk-based inspections of the Federal Bureau of Prison’s (BOP) 122 facilities to identify problems that affect incarcerated people and staff and to provide recommendations to address them.  It will require the IG to assign each facility a risk score, with higher-risk facilities required to be inspected more often.  Under the bill, the IG must also report its findings and recommendations to Congress and the public, and the BOP must respond to all inspection reports within 60 days with a corrective action plan.

The bipartisan bill will also establish an Ombudsman within DOJ to investigate issues that adversely affect the health, safety, welfare, or rights of incarcerated people or staff, and who would report dangerous findings directly to the Attorney General and Congress.  The Ombudsman would also be tasked with creating a secure hotline and online form to be made available for family members, friends, and representatives of incarcerated people to submit complaints and inquiries regarding issues within BOP.

“It’s no secret that BOP has been plagued by misconduct. One investigation after another has revealed a culture of abuse, mismanagement, corruption, torture, and death that reaches to the highest levels. And yet it still operates without any meaningful independent oversight. The result has been catastrophic for both incarcerated people and staff,” Durbin said. “Our bipartisan bill addresses this lack of meaningful oversight and aims to improve the safety and accountability of our federal prison system. It is common sense legislation that I hope our colleagues on both sides of the aisle will support.”

“My 10-month bipartisan investigation of corruption, abuse, and misconduct in the Federal prison system revealed an urgent need to overhaul federal prison oversight. I am bringing Democrats and Republicans together to crack down on corruption, strengthen public safety, and protect civil rights,” Ossoff said.

“More transparency and accountability will help create a safer environment for the correctional officers and staff who work in our federal prisons as well as the inmates incarcerated in them. This bill does not allow the Department of Justice to intervene into the affairs of state and local jails, and will help to improve working conditions and keep our federal corrections officers safe,” said Braun.

Durbin, Ossoff, and Braun are the three founding members of the Senate Bipartisan Prison Policy Working Group.  Representatives Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) and Lucy McBath (D-GA-06) introduced companion bipartisan legislation in the House.

“BOP has an obligation to ensure the health and safety of incarcerated individuals, employees, and visitors in its facilities,” Armstrong said. “Our bipartisan bill will provide oversight of the Federal prison system and allow us to hold it accountable. I appreciate the chance to work on this commonsense legislation that will make federal prisons better prepared to rehabilitate incarcerated individuals and ultimately make our communities safer.”

“Incarcerated Americans should not fear death when they enter our federal prison system, and correctional officers should not fear for their safety at work,” McBath said. “Our federal prisons must serve as an institution that rehabilitates individuals and prepares them for reentry into society—that cannot happen without putting meaningful accountability measures in place. I am proud to be a champion for this bipartisan legislation that will strengthen our federal prison system, bolster public safety, and provide a mechanism for incarcerated individuals and their loved ones to protect their civil rights.”

The bill is supported by civil rights, prison union, and public safety organizations, including Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the Council of Prison Locals (CPL), Justice Action Network (JAN), Right on Crime, the American Conservative Union, and Americans for Prosperity.

“The National Prison Council fully supports the Federal Prison Oversight Act. We appreciate Senator Ossoff and Senator Braun’s focused efforts in developing an additional layer of oversight focused on the safety of our officers and employees and the conditions in which they work,” said CPL National President Shane Fausey. “By improving our working conditions and institutional environments, the conditions of confinement for all offenders entrusted to our care will improve exponentially.  Independent oversight and transparency with the Bureau of Prisons has become both essential and necessary.  This is a big step in the right direction for everyone, and the American people deserve nothing less.”

“It’s been said that sunlight is the best disinfectant — and yet our prisons are the darkest places in the nation,” said FAMM President Kevin Ring. “With no meaningful oversight, incarcerated people and correctional officers are not safe, and our elected leaders are not even aware of the problems that need to be fixed. Families with incarcerated loved ones for years have been calling for greater transparency, safety, and accountable from our federal prisons. The bipartisan bill introduced today answers their calls.”

Click here to read the bipartisan Federal Prison Oversight Act of 2022.               

For years, Durbin has sought to address the injustices and challenges that impact the daily lives of incarcerated Americans and their families—along with the staff responsible for protecting both the people incarcerated in our federal prisons and the communities surrounding them.  He has worked across the aisle to pass bipartisan legislation like the Fair Sentencing Act and the First Step Act; held hearings on harrowing conditions of confinement, including the treatment of incarcerated individuals with mental illness and the abuse of solitary confinement; and, throughout both Republican and Democratic Administrations, has pushed DOJ and BOP to improve our criminal justice system.

Last year, Durbin called for a new, reform-minded Director to replace former BOP Director Carvajal, following an Associated Press report that found that BOP is a “hotbed of abuse, graft and corruption, and has turned a blind eye to employees accused of misconduct.”  Carvajal’s resignation was announced less than two months later.  In July, Colette Peters was announced as the next Director at BOP.  Durbin will chair Ms. Peters’ first Judiciary Committee oversight hearing tomorrow since taking on this new role.

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