Durbin, Ossoff, Braun Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Overhaul Federal Prison Oversight

Bipartisan bill requires DOJ Inspector General to conduct vigorous oversight & creates a new independent Ombudsman to investigate health & safety of staff & incarcerated people in federal prisons

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Mike Braun (R-IN) today to reintroduce bipartisan legislation, the Federal Prison Oversight Act, to overhaul federal prison oversight and strengthen security at federal prisons.  The legislation would establish new, independent oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). 

The bipartisan bill requires the Department of Justice’s Inspector General (IG) to conduct comprehensive, risk-based inspections of the BOP’s correctional facilities, provide recommendations to fix problems, and assign each facility a risk score, with higher-risk facilities required to be inspected more often.  The IG must also report its findings and recommendations to Congress and the public, and BOP must respond to all inspection reports within 60 days with a corrective action plan.

The Federal Prison Oversight Act would also establish an independent Ombudsman to investigate the health, safety, welfare, and rights of incarcerated people and staff. The Ombudsman would create a secure hotline and online form for family members, friends, and representatives of incarcerated people to submit complaints and inquiries.

“In recent years, management of our federal prison system has been riddled with scandals and missteps. Since I’ve held the gavel of the Judiciary Committee, we’ve taken an active role in helping to restore integrity to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, including calling for a new BOP Director, holding oversight hearings, and leading numerous responses to reports on solitary confinement, First Step Act implementation, and misconduct by officials. Today’s bill is the latest step in support of that mission to improve oversight and fulfill one of the fundamental purposes of the prison system: to provide safe and humane conditions of confinement and ensure the successful return of incarcerated individuals to the community,” said Durbin.

“My bipartisan investigations of corruption, abuse, and misconduct in the Federal prison system revealed an urgent need to overhaul Federal prison oversight,” Ossoff said. “I am bringing Republicans and Democrats together to crack down on corruption, strengthen public safety, and protect civil rights.”

“More transparency and accountability will help create a safer environment for the correctional officers and staff who work in our federal prisons as well as the inmates incarcerated in them. This bill does not allow the Department of Justice to intervene into the affairs of state and local jails, and will help to improve working conditions and keep our federal corrections officers safe,” said Braun.

U.S. Representatives Lucy McBath (D-GA-07) and Kelly Armstrong (R-ND-AL) introduced companion bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives. 

Last year, the Senators co-founded the Senate Bipartisan Prison Policy Working Group to develop bipartisan policies and proposals that strengthen oversight of the federal prison system and improve communication between the BOP, Congress, and other stakeholders.

The bill is supported by civil rights, prison union, and public safety organizations, including the Council of Prison Locals (CPL), Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Americans for Prosperity, Justice Action Network, Due Process Institute, Right on Crime, and Niskanen Center.

Click here to read the bipartisan Federal Prison Oversight Act