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Congress OKs bill overhauling oversight of troubled federal Bureau of Prisons

Jul 10, 2024, 3:52 PM

FILE - The Federal Correctional Institution is shown in Dublin, Calif., Monday, March 11, 2024. Two...

FILE - The Federal Correctional Institution is shown in Dublin, Calif., Monday, March 11, 2024. Two advocacy groups on Wednesday, June 12, 2024, asked a judge to unseal court records and preserve public access to hearings in the class action lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons over sexual abuse of incarcerated women at a now-shuttered California prison. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Congress has passed legislation overhauling oversight and bringing greater transparency to the crisis-plagued federal Bureau of Prisons following reporting from The Associated Press that exposed systemic corruption in the federal prison system and increased congressional scrutiny.

The bill, unanimously approved by the Senate on Wednesday, would force the Justice Department’s Inspector General to conduct comprehensive inspections of the prison agency ‘s 122 facilities, provide recommendations to fix problems, and assign each facility a risk score.

The Federal Prison Oversight Act, which the House passed in May, now goes to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

The bill would also establish an independent ombudsman to investigate problems within the agency in the wake of rampant staff-on-inmate sexual abuse, prisoner escapes and high-profile deaths. It was introduced by Sens. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

An ongoing Associated Press investigation has uncovered deep, previously unreported flaws within the Bureau of Prisons, the Justice Department’s largest law enforcement agency with more than 30,000 employees, 158,000 inmates and an annual budget of about $8 billion.

AP reporting has revealed rampant sexual abuse and other criminal conduct by staff, dozens of escapes, chronic violence, deaths and severe staffing shortages that have hampered responses to emergencies, including inmate assaults and suicides.

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Associated Press reporter Farnoush Amiri in Washington contributed to this report.

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Congress OKs bill overhauling oversight of troubled federal Bureau of Prisons