Sens. Ossoff, Braun Launch Bipartisan Working Group to Examine U.S. Prison Conditions, Promote Transparency

Washington, D.C. –– U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Mike Braun (R-IN) today launched the bipartisan Senate Prison Policy Working Group to examine conditions of incarceration in U.S. Federal prisons, protect human rights, and promote transparency.

The Senate Bipartisan Prison Policy Working Group will work to develop bipartisan policies and proposals to strengthen oversight of the Federal prison system and improve communication between the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Congress, and other stakeholders.

The group will aim to improve the safety and well-being of incarcerated people and staff, reduce recidivism rates, and promote transparency within the prison system.

“America’s prisons and jails are horrifically dysfunctional and too often places where brutality and criminality are prevalent. The Senate Bipartisan Prison Policy Working Group will identify and advance solutions,” Sen. Ossoff said.

“Indiana is home to the Federal Corrections Complex in Terre Haute, and I am glad to form this group with Senator Ossoff to work on bipartisan ideas to improve the safety and well-being of Bureau of Prisons staff and incarcerated individuals,” Sen. Braun said.

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) joins as an original member of the working group.

“The Senate Bipartisan Prison Policy Working Group is essential to helping us achieve our goal of creating safer conditions for those at correctional facilities. The health and safety of BOP inmates and staff must always remain our top priority,” said Chair Durbin. “Senator Ossoff, Senator Braun, and I are committed to working on a bipartisan basis to improve conditions and safety, strengthen transparency and communications, and reduce recidivism in our federal prison system.” 

Earlier this month, Sens. Ossoff and Braun joined Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Mike Lee (R-UT) to introduce legislation that would increase Federal oversight and accountability of the Federal prison system by making the BOP Director a U.S. Senate-confirmed position.

In October, the Senate passed Sen. Ossoff’s bipartisan Prison Camera Reform Act of 2021, which would require BOP to ensure all correctional facilities have the security camera coverage necessary to protect the civil rights and safety of incarcerated people and staff.

The BOP has 122 institutions located throughout the United States, employing nearly 38,000 employees and responsible for more than 120,000 Federal inmates. 

There are six facilities in Georgia overseen by the BOP. Indiana is home to Federal Corrections Complex, Terre Haute, a federal prison complex which includes the maximum-security United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute. 

Leading prison reform, civil rights, and law enforcement organizations applauded the formation of Sens. Ossoff and Braun’s working group:

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed serious weaknesses in our federal prison system, but also provided a blueprint for reform. Congress should take an active role in ensuring that BOP builds on the lessons of the pandemic to ensure the safety of incarcerated persons and the community, promote rehabilitation and reentry, and maximize alternatives to incarceration,” Kyle O’Dowd, Associate Executive Director for National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said. “The Prison Policy Working Group can open a bipartisan dialogue on these issues and lead the way in creating a more humane and rational prison system.” 

“The bipartisan Prison Policy Working Group provides a critical forum for our nation’s leaders to ensure greater transparency and accountability from the BOP. Congress must prioritize and resolve the broad range of issues – from insufficient oversight to staffing shortages – that continue to plague the BOP,” said Ronal Serpas, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Leaders.

“It is high time that Congress address issues facing both federal prisoners and correctional officers alike. The newly created Senate Prison Policy Working Group must help develop policies that strengthen public safety, advance human dignity, and ensure that the prison bureaucracy is held accountable for the results it delivers to the taxpayers,” said David Safavian, General Counsel, American Conservative Union. “On behalf of the American Conservative Union Foundation, we commend Senators Braun and Ossoff for taking this important step.”  

“The National Prison Council would like to commend Senator Ossoff and Senator Braun on expanding upon the House’s BOP Reform Caucus and establishing this essential deliberative body in the United States Senate.  The bipartisan Prison Policy Working Group is specifically designed to address the unique challenges of the expansive federal prison system.  By applying immediate congressional oversight, authority, and resources in a direct and focused manner, the Prison Policy Working Group has the ability to improve decades of staffing shortages, inadequate funding, and develop legislation that will directly impact the safety of all of our correctional professionals and the incarcerated persons entrusted to their custody,” said Shane Fausey, President, National Council of Prison Locals 33.

“Senator Ossoff has demonstrated the necessary leadership to uphold public safety through the development of the Senate Prison Policy Working Group. We are excited about this bipartisan effort aimed towards increasing accountability and transparency within the BOP and implementing important legislation and resources to protect both currently incarcerated people and correctional officers,” Michael Mendoza, Director of National Advocacy, Anti-Recidivism Coalition said.

Jillian E. Snider, Policy Director for Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties, R Street Institute said, “We are encouraged to see this continued bipartisan momentum in Congress to hold our federal correctional system, particularly the Bureau of Prisons, accountable to justice and rehabilitation. It is incumbent on Congress to exercise oversight of the executive branch to ensure laws are carried out appropriately, especially when it comes to their impact on real lives in government custody. We look forward to working with the Prison Policy Working Group to do just that.”

“Congress must fully exercise its oversight authority over the Bureau of Prisons to ensure the safety and health of people in prisons, especially during this deadly pandemic. Bureau officials have broad authority to release and transfer elderly and sick individuals; I urge Congress to use its authority to advance a broader and more humane utilization of compassionate release and home confinement within federal prisons,” said Kara Gotsch, Deputy Director at The Sentencing Project. “The Sentencing Project applauds Senator Ossoff’s leadership in creating the Senate Prison Policy Working Group to better prepare the BOP to respond to current and future crises.”

We are excited to see the formation of a bipartisan Prison Policy Working Group and strongly urge Republicans and Democrats to join this important group of members who are working to improve the Bureau of Prisons. Nearly three years after the passage of the First Step Act, it’s clear there is still much work to be done to increase transparency, efficiency, and fairness and the COVID-19 pandemic magnified the long-existing underutilization of compassionate release,” said Jason Pye Director, Rule of Law Initiatives. “Due Process Institute looks forward to working with the members of the Prison Policy Working Group to improve the way our federal corrections system operates.”

Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, President of Tzedek Association, said, “Tzedek Association strongly supports the Senate Prison Policy Working Group. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) plays a pivotal role in keeping society safe, not just by securely housing people who have committed crimes, but also by assisting the men and women in BOP facilities to become better, more productive citizens when they eventually reenter society. BOP needs the tools, resources and Congressional encouragement to invest in rehabilitation and recidivism reduction, so that crimes are not re-committed and our communities are safer. This bipartisan caucus can play an important role in assisting BOP to accomplish this objective. We also believe that America is a compassionate country, and its federal prison system should reflect that value. This caucus can and should support legislation and policies that are in line with that ethic. For all this to happen, the BOP staff — from the Correctional Officers, to the Chaplains, to the Wardens and to the hard-working staff at BOP’s Central Office — should receive the support and resources they need to do their jobs well.”

“There is bipartisan consensus that carrying out the historic opportunity of the First Step Act starts with increasing transparency. By bringing both Democrats and Republicans together, Prison Policy Working Group takes the necessary steps to reach this end while also helping to cut through the red tape holding back progress and preventing thousands of people from returning safely home to their families. We look forward to working with Senator Ossoff and members in both parties to bring integrity and accountability to the BOP,” said Kandia N. Milton, Policy Director of Dream Corps

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