Support the Federal Prison Oversight Act

theYou have the opportunity to spread the word and build support for a very important act that would do more to assure fair treatment of individuals incarcerated in federal prison than any other legislation in a long time.

The Federal Prison Oversight Act would require the inspector general (IG) for the Department of Justice to periodically inspect and assess all 122 Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The IG would then assign a risk score, with high-risk facilities subjected to additional inspections and recommendations. Within 18 months, the IG would be required to report findings to Congress and then monitor the BOP’s implementation of the recommendations.

Even more importantly, the bill would create an ombudsman’s office within the DOJ and an online system that could be used by prisoners, their family members and attorneys to confidentially submit reports of wrongdoing. The ombudsman could refer these complaints to other agencies, make policy recommendations and report findings to the attorney general and Congress if the BOP does not respond to or act on recommended actions. (Currently, the internal grievance system is totally paper-based and prison staff routinely and purposefully “lose” or destroy forms, and retaliate against individuals who persist.)

What you can do

The bill has already been passed by the House. Below is suggested copy for an email that can be adapted and sent to your federal senators.

I am reaching out to strongly urge you to support the Federal Prison Oversight Act (S. 4988), which would require the federal Bureau of Prisons to operate with greater transparency and accountability.

I have read accounts of the conditions in federal prison, and the treatment of adults in custody it is often inhumane and counterproductive if we want them to return to their communities as healthy, productive individuals. [Make your email a little different than others by describing the situation of an incarcerated loved one or friend, or what you read in this report.]

Yet, when prisoners attempt to report policy violations using the established grievance system, they are refused the necessary forms, witness the forms being torn up, discover that the forms have mysteriously disappeared, etc. Often, they are retaliated against by being transferred or sent to the SHU (“hole”) for a trumped-up charge.

It’s time to stop these abuses and force the BOP to be as accountable for the behavior of the staff at its 122 prison facilities as individuals who commit crimes are required to be. The Federal Prison Oversight Act would go a long way toward making that happen by tasking the DOJ Office of Inspector General to regularly visit and report on BOP facilities, develop recommendations to fix the observed problems, and assign each facility a risk score — with higher-risk facilities required to be inspected more often. The IG also would report its findings and recommendations to Congress and the public, and the BOP would be required to respond to all inspection reports within 60 days with a corrective action plan.

Even more important, the act would create an independent ombudsman’s office within the DOJ, which would establish a secure hotline and online form that allows prisoners, family members and other representatives of incarcerated people to confidentially and safely submit complaints and inquiries.

For all these reasons, please sign on to support independent oversight of the BOP and co-sponsor the Federal Prison Oversight Act.

Thank you for your service and for considering my views.