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Congressional Panel Advances Bill To Boost Federal Prison Oversight

Members of Congress are working to reform the Federal Bureau of Prisons, with the 41-1 approval last week of the Federal Prison Oversight Act, by the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, the Washington Post reports.  The bill focuses on transparency and an “inspection regime” by empowering the Justice Department inspector general and a new ombudsman exclusively for the prison agency. With “access to all Bureau facilities” at any time, without prior notice, the overseers will try to ensure that the system is not escaping accountability for abuses.

The legislation says the assessments would include incarceration conditions; staffing; availability of recidivism-reduction programs; confinement practices; prison medical and mental health services; and sexual abuse and excessive-force allegations. A report on findings would be available to the public. A “risk score” based on a variety of issues in prisons would be developed for each facility by the inspector general’s office. Higher-risk prisons would be inspected more frequently, and the ombudsman would decide the merits of each complaint and report the findings to the BOP. The bill calls for an online form and a telephone hotline for “representatives of incarcerated people” to submit complaints. David Fathi of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Projec, described the the bill as “a major step forward for transparency," calling the absence of oversight "a recipe for neglect and mistreatment and abuse.”


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