PROMO 64J1 Law - Sign Building Washington DC Crime Department of Justice - iStock - robertcicchetti

Proposed federal legislation would establish independent oversight over federal prisons

© iStock - robertcicchetti
T.A. DeFeo

(The Center Square) — Proposed bipartisan federal legislation would establish independent oversight of the nation’s 122 federal prisons and require the Department of Justice’s inspector general to report its findings and recommendations publicly.

The move follows a U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations probe that found the DOJ’s tally of how many people died while in custody missed hundreds of deaths over the past couple of years. The investigation found that the problems spanned many years over multiple administrations, and committee staffers said there is widespread blame for the oversight.

"My 10-month bipartisan investigation of corruption, abuse, and misconduct in the Federal prison system revealed an urgent need to overhaul federal prison oversight," U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, chair of the Senate committee, said in an announcement.

The newly introduced Federal Prison Oversight Act would require the DOJ’s IG to inspect all 122 Federal Bureau of Prisons correctional facilities and provide recommendations to correct problems. Under the legislation, the IG would assign each facility a risk score and require more frequent inspections of higher-risk facilities.

The measure also requires the BOP to respond to inspection reports within 60 days and deliver a corrective action plan. It would also establish an independent DOJ ombudsman to investigate inmates’ and staff members’ health, safety, welfare, and rights and create a mechanism for inmates’ families, friends and representatives to submit complaints and inquiries.

"More transparency and accountability will help create a safer environment for the correctional officers and staff who work in our federal prisons, and will help crack down on violence against corrections officers and contraband that endangers the health and safety of prison staff," U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana, said in an announcement. "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."

The proposal drew support from Families Against Mandatory Minimum, a nonpartisan advocacy group that partly works to save taxpayer dollars.

"Families with incarcerated loved ones for years have been calling for greater transparency, safety, and [accountability] from our federal prisons. The bipartisan bill introduced today answers their calls," FAMM President Kevin Ring said in an announcement.

"It’s been said that sunlight is the best disinfectant — and yet our prisons are the darkest places in the nation," Ring added. "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."