Ossoff unveils bill creating more oversight of federal prisons

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff has unveiled legislation that would create new oversight of federal prisons, including routine inspections and an ombudsman to investigate concerns about the treatment of prisoners and staff.

The proposal follows an investigation of safety concerns and allegations of mismanagement at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary and across the federal prison system. It was conducted by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Ossoff chairs.

“My 10-month bipartisan investigation of corruption, abuse, and misconduct in the Federal prison system revealed an urgent need to overhaul federal prison oversight,” the Georgia Democrat said in a news release. “I am bringing Democrats and Republicans together to crack down on corruption, strengthen public safety, and protect civil rights.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, are co-sponsoring the legislation with Ossoff.

The bill would require the Department of Justice’s inspector general to conduct inspections of all 122 facilities overseen by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, then determine a risk score for each while also providing recommendations for how they could improve.

Facilities with the highest risk scores would be inspected more often, and all would be required to respond to the IG’s report with corrective action plans within 60 days.

A newly established Justice Department ombudsman would have the power to independently investigate concerns about health and safety when it comes to people incarcerated or working at federal prisons. The ombudsman would also be required to create a hotline and online form to receive complaints from staff, inmates or their loved ones.

Correctional facilities operated by state and local governments would not be affected by the proposed changes.

“More transparency and accountability will help create a safer environment for the correctional officers and staff who work in our federal prisons,“ Braun said, “and will help crack down on violence against corrections officers and contraband that endangers the health and safety of prison staff.”