Published on: Thursday, April 27, 2023

Bipartisan legislation set to be introduced Wednesday aims to provide more oversight of federal prisons as part of a renewed push to address reports of scandal and abuse (article available here).

The Federal Prison Oversight Act comes in response to a series of revelations about widespread abuse of incarcerated people at the hands of prison officers and corruption inside Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities.

The bill would create a hotline for incarcerated people to report misconduct to an accountability office. It would also mandate federal watchdog inspections, congressional reporting requirements and response plans from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

If the legislation passes through the divided Congress and is signed into law, the Justice Department's inspector general would also be directed to conduct risk assessments of the 122 federal prison facilities run by the Bureau of Prisons. Investigators would then score the level of risk at each penitentiary, with higher-risk facilities receiving more scrutiny.

Under the legislation, the ombudsperson would be allowed to visit any BOP facility without providing notice and communicate privately and confidentially with staff and incarcerated people during in-person interviews or through electronic messaging, mail, or telephone.