Sens. Ossoff, Grassley Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Crack Down on Contraband in Federal Prisons

Bipartisan bill backed by Council of Prison Locals, who represent 30,000 Federal law enforcement officers

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff is introducing a bipartisan bill to crack down on contraband in Federal prisons that threatens public safety.

Today, Sens. Ossoff and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced The Lieutenant Osvaldo Albarati Stopping Prison Contraband Act to crack down on the smuggling of contraband cellphones into Federal prisons. The bipartisan bill would upgrade the charge of smuggling of contraband cellphone into a Federal prison from a misdemeanor offense to a felony.

The legislation is named in honor of Lieutenant Osvaldo Albarati, a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) correctional officer who was murdered after completing his shift at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) Guaynabo in Puerto Rico in 2013. Five men who later pleaded guilty to the crime admitted they targeted Albarati as a direct result of continuous seizures of contraband, including cellphones, by Albarati and other correctional officers. The inmate who placed the hit on Albarati did so using a contraband cellphone.

In 2022, Sen. Ossoff led a 10-month bipartisan investigation into corruption, abuse, and misconduct at U.S. Penitentiary Atlanta (now FCI Atlanta). Among its many findings, Sen. Ossoff’s bipartisan investigation uncovered a particular need to remove the massive number of illegal cell phones in the facility. For example, a 2021 sweep found 800 contraband cell phones, which had been used, among many things, to run illegal drug rings and gang activity in and outside the facility.

A recent DOJ Inspector General report identified contraband, like cell phones, as a critical threat to safety and security not only to prison staff and inmates, but also to the entire community. The report found that nationwide, contraband contributed to at least 1/3 of deaths in Federal prisons and also found that USP Atlanta had the most deaths of any Federal prison nationwide between 2014-2021.

“My bipartisan investigations of corruption, abuse, and misconduct in the Federal prison system have revealed systemic challenges that allow for the dangerous flow of contraband, which is a threat to safety and security,” Sen. Ossoff said. “Senator Grassley and I are introducing this bipartisan bill to strengthen penalties for smuggling contraband into Federal prisons.” 

“Prisoners are increasingly using contraband cellphones to coordinate illegal activity from within correctional facilities. That’s an obvious safety risk to prison staff, other inmates and the public,” Grassley said. “Stemming the flow of contraband by stiffening the penalty for cellphone smuggling will go a long way to improve our federal prison system and keep the public safe.”

“Getting contraband cellphones out of prisons is very near and dear to my heart as I lost my husband–and my children lost their father–due to this. My husband was brutally murdered because he confiscated cell phones in a federal prison. And inmates used a contraband cellphone to put out a hit on him. Cell phones allow inmates to engage in and coordinate criminal activities both inside and outside the prison, including drug trafficking, extortion, violence, etc. I believe addressing this is crucial for the safety and security of our communities, and the employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” said Mrs. Helen Albarati, widow of Lt. Osvaldo Albarati.

“A cell phone in a prison is a deadly weapon. Yet, as our investigative work continues to demonstrate, contraband cell phones have proven to be pervasive inside many federal prisons, a reality that undermines the safety and security of these institutions for BOP staff, inmates, and the public. Lieutenant Albarati was a true hero, selflessly dedicated to making MDC Guaynabo and his community safer by preventing criminal activity inside the facility. I commend Senators Ossoff and Grassley for honoring his memory by sponsoring this public safety reform and for recognizing the severity of this problem,” said Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael Horowitz. “By making the introduction of a cell phone into a prison a felony, as numerous states have already done, the Lieutenant Osvaldo Albarati Stopping Prison Contraband Act will allow investigators and prosecutors to more effectively bring to justice those introducing cell phones into prisons, curb the flow of illicit cell phones into prisons, make our communities and prisons safer, and help to save lives.”

“This issue is of paramount importance due to its potential for enabling illegal activities and undermining institutional security. Cellphones in prisons pose significant risks to public safety. Inmates with access to cellphones can coordinate criminal activities both inside and outside prison walls, including drug trafficking, extortion, and violence. Moreover, these devices facilitate communication with criminal networks, allowing inmates to continue engaging in illegal enterprises from behind bars,” said Brandy Moore White, National President of the Council of Prison Locals, which represents more than 30,000 Federal law enforcement officers. “Furthermore, the presence of cellphones hampers efforts to maintain a secure and orderly environment within correctional institutions. Inmates can use cellphones to intimidate witnesses, harass victims, and disrupt prison operations. This not only endangers the safety of staff and fellow inmates but also compromises the overall effectiveness of the correctional system. By implementing tougher sentencing for inmates caught with cellphones, we can send a clear message that such misconduct will not be tolerated and that individuals must be held accountable for their actions.”

“Voices of JOE, a law enforcement advocacy group, would like to lend our support to the Lieutenant Osvaldo Albarati Stopping Prison Contraband Bill. There has clearly been an increase in the smuggling and possession of contraband cell phones in our Federal Prison System. These phones are known to have been used to conduct criminal business such as drug dealing and even putting contracts on individuals, both inside and outside of prison walls,” said Don Williams, President, Voices of JOE. “This bill proposes a much-needed increase in the penalties for any individual found in possession of a cell phone in the prison population.  Due to the criminal purposes of these phones, the penalties for possession of them must be in keeping with the harm they cause.”

Sen. Ossoff continues to advocate for transparency and accountability in the Federal prison system.

This February, Sen. Ossoff pressed BOP Director Colette Peters in a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on the steps she’s taking to crack down on the contraband flowing through BOP facilities that threaten public safety, including at U.S. Penitentiary Atlanta.

In December 2022, Sen. Ossoff’s bipartisan Prison Camera Reform Act was signed into law, requiring the Federal Bureau of Prisons to upgrade outdated and broken security camera systems, ensuring all facilities have the coverage necessary to protect the safety of incarcerated people and staff.

Last July, Sen. Ossoff and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced the bipartisan Federal Prisons Accountability Act of 2023, which would make the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director a U.S. Senate-confirmed position.

Last April, 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). That bill recently cleared the House Committee on Oversight and Administration in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote.

Click here to read The Lieutenant Osvaldo Albarati Stopping Prison Contraband Act.

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