The US Senate is launching a bipartisan task force of lawmakers to examine conditions within the Bureau of Prisons following an Associated Press report that uncovered widespread corruption and abuse in federal prisons.
The task force, led by Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, and Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana, aims to develop policies and proposals to strengthen oversight of the beleaguered federal prison system and improve communication between the Bureau of Prisons and Congress.
The group plans to examine incarceration conditions in the 122 US federal prisons, protect human rights and promote transparency. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, will also be on the panel.
The federal prison system, a hotbed of corruption and misconduct, has been plagued by a myriad of crises in recent years, including widespread criminal activity among employees, systemic sexual abuse at a federal women’s prison in California, extremely low numbers that have hampered emergency responses, the rapid spread of COVID-19, a failed pandemic response and dozens of escapes. And late last month, two inmates were killed in a gang clash at a Texas federal penitentiary, sparking a nationwide lockdown.
In early January, embattled federal prisons director Michael Carvajal announced he was stepping down amid growing criticism of his leadership of the office. The Justice Department is looking for a new director – even posting ads on LinkedIn – but has yet to find a replacement.
“America’s prisons and jails are horribly dysfunctional and too often places where brutality and criminality are rampant,” Ossoff said in a statement to the AP on Thursday. “The bipartisan Senate Prison Policy Task Force will identify and propose solutions.”
Ossoff, Braun and several other lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, introduced legislation requiring the director of the Bureau of Prisons to be confirmed by the Senate, as is the case with almost all other major federal agencies.
In a statement, Durbin said the task force was “essential in helping us achieve our goal of creating safer conditions for people in correctional facilities.” He said the trio were “committed to working on a bipartisan basis to improve conditions and security, enhance transparency and communications, and reduce recidivism in our federal prison system.”
The Senate passed legislation Ossoff introduced to require federal prisons to repair and upgrade security systems, including broken surveillance cameras. Faulty security cameras in federal prisons allowed inmates to escape undetected and were at the center of the investigation when wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was awaiting trial for sexually abusing girls as young as 14, committed suicide behind bars in 2019.