Bipartisan bill requires DOJ Inspector General to conduct vigorous oversight & creates a new independent Ombudsman to investigate health & safety of staff & incarcerated people in Federal prisons
Bill wins support of Council of Prison Locals & leading public safety & civil rights organizations across political spectrum, including ACLU, Americans for Prosperity, Conservative Political Action Committee, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums
Reps. McBath, Armstrong introduce bipartisan House companion
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff today introduced bipartisan legislation to overhaul Federal prison oversight and strengthen security at Federal prisons.
Sens. Ossoff, Mike Braun (R-IN) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the bipartisan Federal Prison Oversight Act to establish new, independent oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
Representatives Lucy McBath (D-GA-07) and Kelly Armstrong (R-ND-AL) introduced companion bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives.
Sens. Ossoff and Braun, along with Chair Durbin, co-founded the Senate Bipartisan Prison Policy Working Group last year to develop bipartisan policies and proposals that strengthen oversight of the Federal prison system and improve communication between the BOP, Congress, and other stakeholders.
The bipartisan bill requires the Department of Justice’s Inspector General to conduct comprehensive, risk-based inspections of the BOP’s 122 correctional facilities, provide recommendations to fix problems, and assign each facility a risk score, with higher-risk facilities required to be inspected more often.
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 would also establish an independent Ombudsman to investigate the health, safety, welfare, and rights of incarcerated people and staff. The Ombudsman would create a secure hotline and online form for family members, friends, and representatives of incarcerated people to submit complaints and inquiries.
Last year, Sen. Ossoff led multiple bipartisan investigations of corruption, abuse, and misconduct within the Federal prison system. His bipartisan investigations uncovered a lack of oversight, leading to long-term failures that likely undermined public safety and civil rights; contributed to loss of life; and jeopardized the health and safety of incarcerated people and staff.
“My bipartisan investigations of corruption, abuse, and misconduct in the Federal prison system revealed an urgent need to overhaul Federal prison oversight,” Sen. Ossoff said. “I am bringing Republicans and Democrats together to crack down on corruption, strengthen public safety, and protect civil rights.”
“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 Sen. Braun.
“In recent years, management of our federal prison system has been riddled with scandals and missteps. Since I’ve held the gavel of the Judiciary Committee, we’ve taken an active role in helping to restore integrity to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), including calling for a new BOP Director, holding oversight hearings, and leading numerous responses to reports on solitary confinement, First Step Actimplementation, and misconduct by officials. Today’s bill is the latest step in support of that mission to improve oversight and fulfill one of the fundamental purposes of the prison system: to provide safe and humane conditions of confinement and ensure the successful return of incarcerated individuals to the community,” said U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Incarcerated Americans should not fear death when they enter our Federal prison system, and correctional officers should not fear for their safety in their workplace,” Congresswoman McBath said. “Our Federal prisons must serve as institutions that rehabilitate and prepare Americans for reentry into society, and that cannot happen without putting meaningful accountability measures in place. I am proud to sponsor 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.”
“BOP has an obligation to ensure the health and safety of incarcerated individuals, employees, and visitors in its facilities,” said Congressman Armstrong. “Our 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 sure Federal prisons can be better at rehabilitation and ultimately make our communities safer.”
The bill is supported by civil rights, prison union, and public safety organizations, including the Council of Prison Locals (CPL), Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Americans for Prosperity, Justice Action Network, Due Process Institute, Right on Crime, Niskanen Center, and Faith & Freedom Coalition.
“The National Council of Prison Locals fully supports the Federal Prison Oversight Act. We applaud 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 Shane Fausey, National President of the Council of Prison Locals, representing nearly 30,000 correctional officers. “By improving our working conditions and institutional environments, the conditions of confinement for all offenders entrusted to our care will improve exponentially. With its ever increasing budget, inability to safely staff its facilities, and lack of full transparency with Congress, independent oversight of 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.”
“There is a crisis in our nation’s prisons and jails,” FAMM President Kevin Ring said. “Families with incarcerated loved ones and correctional officers have known about this crisis for years – and now Congress is on notice. Last week, the Government Accounting Office added the Federal Bureau of Prisons to its list of high-risk management concerns because it found that staff issues are undermining prisoner and staff safety and limiting the reach of rehabilitative programming. Congress must address this crisis, and today’s bill introduction represents an important first step. This bipartisan bill will establish independent oversight of the federal prison system and bring much-needed transparency, safety, and accountability to our federal prisons. We look forward to working with the bill’s sponsors to pass this critical legislation.”
“The independent oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons envisioned in Sen. Ossoff’s legislation, including unannounced inspections of BOP facilities and private contracted facilities, will help shine a light on the problems within the federal prison system,” said Corene Kendrick, Deputy Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “In recent years, BOP lurched from one crisis to the next, from the rampant spread of coronavirus inside prisons and a failed response to the pandemic. Because one third of all federal correctional officer jobs were vacant before the pandemic, the continued shortage of security staff during the pandemic has resulted in untrained secretaries, cooks, and nurses having to serve as custody officers. Such critically low security staffing levels have hampered responses to emergencies, and led to high-profile escapes, violence, suicides, and the rampant sexual abuse of incarcerated people in BOP women’s prisons. Most of the more than 150,000 people in federal prisons are serving sentences between one to 15 years, and 46 percent of incarcerated people in federal prisons are serving time for drug offenses. Most if not all of them will eventually return to our communities, and we collectively want them to return rehabilitated, not broken.”
“Increasing the accountability of the federal prison system has overwhelming bipartisan support and should be a priority for this Congress. We commend Senators Ossoff and Braun for their commitment to safety and transparency,” said Inimai M. Chettiar, Deputy Director of Justice Action Network. “Their willingness to work across the aisle is an example of true leadership in an otherwise divided political environment. We look forward to this important step in bringing clarity to our federal system.”
“The Federal Prison Oversight Act is a balanced approach to increasing much-needed oversight and accountability at the Bureau of Prisons that would help improve conditions for incarcerated individuals and staff alike, and position the Bureau of Prisons to better advance rehabilitation and public safety,” said Lars Trautman, National Director of Right on Crime.
“Every aspect of the federal government—including departments and agencies—must be held accountable for failures to perform their core function. This includes the Bureau of Prisons, which has operated under a veil of secrecy for far too long and has a history of well-documented failures, including recent instances of sexual violence against women held in prison facilities in California and Florida,” said Jason Pye, Director of Rule of Law Initiatives at the Due Process Institute. “The Federal Prison Oversight Act would bring long overdue accountability and transparency to the Bureau of Prisons and improve safety for people under the care and responsibility of the federal prison system. We urge Congress to pass this important bipartisan legislation.”
Click here to read the bipartisan Federal Prison Oversight Act.