ATLANTA – U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., introduced legislation Wednesday calling for greater oversight of the federal prison system.
The bill follows a 10-month investigation into conditions inside federal prisons – including the federal penitentiary in Atlanta – conducted by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Ossoff chairs.
The legislation would require the U.S. Department of Justice’s inspector general to perform comprehensive inspections of the federal prison system’s 122 correctional facilities, assign each a risk score and recommend how to fix problems. Higher-risk facilities would have to be inspected more often.
Recommendations from the inspector general would be forwarded to Congress. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons would be required to respond to reports within 60 days with a corrective action plan.
The bill also would establish an independent ombudsman in the Justice Department to investigate the health, safety, welfare, and rights of inmates and prison staff and create a secure hotline and online form for relatives and representatives of inmates to lodge complaints.
The bill is being cosponsored by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind.
“My 10-month bipartisan investigation of corruption, abuse, and misconduct in the federal prison system revealed an urgent need to overhaul federal prison oversight,” Ossoff said. “I am bringing Democrats and Republicans 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 and will help crack down on violence … and contraband that endangers the health and safety of prison staff,” Braun added.
At a hearing Ossoff’s subcommittee held in July, two former administrators at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta told stories of inmates being severely abused amid inhumane conditions dating back at least to 2014.
A companion bill to Ossoff’s legislation was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday by Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta.
“Incarcerated Americans should not fear death when they enter our federal prison system, and correctional officers should not fear for their safety at work,” McBath said. “Our federal prisons must serve as an institution that rehabilitates individuals and prepares them for reentry into society.”
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.