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IG Report Cites Short-Staffed, Negligent Federal Prison System

Negligence, operational failures and a blundering workforce contributed to hundreds of inmate deaths in federal custody, the Justice Department's inspector general's office said Thursday. Its report detailed the short-staffed Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) system in which many inmates go unsupervised. A total of 344 inmates died by suicide, homicide, overdose or other unknown accidents between 2014 and 2021, and a majority of those deaths were suicides — with a majority of those suicides among inmates in solitary confinement, reports the Washington Post.

That death count has crept up between 2014 and 2021 — even as the federal prison population has declined to about 155,000 people. In 2014, there were 38 inmate deaths by unnatural causes. In 2021, that number was 57. In at least 86 of the deaths, the inspector general determined that staff did not conduct the proper check-in rounds. Staff also failed to search inmates’ cell units properly for contraband like medication, razors and bedsheets. The report concluded that the culture of negligence that led to the deaths of high-profile inmates Jeffrey Epstein and Whitey Bulger in recent years is endemic in the prison system. Inspector General Michael Horowitz conducted the investigation into the federal prison system in response to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (D-D.C.) calls for the probe after two D.C. residents died in violent altercations at a federal facility in West Virginia.


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