Legislation to Authorize Independent Oversight Stalls in the Senate
The Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) has faced mounting criticism after conditions have slowly deteriorated over decades, culminating in the federal government settling up a hotline for incarcerated individuals at one facility to report civil rights abuses after media reports surfaced detailing the health and safety issues facing current inmates. Some congressional members have sought to address some of the underlying issues facing the BOP, such as authorizing independent oversight by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General under The Federal Prison Oversight Act, though the bill has stalled in the Senate. Some advocates have raised issues that the BOP can address on its own without new legislation, such as overhauling the formal complaint process for incarcerated individuals by modernizing the process to allow computerizing said complaints and allowing inmates or their families to track them digitally, instead of relying on the current bureaucratic and analog process that often leaves inmates complaints unheard or untimely as a result of the long process currently in place.
New Director of BOP Faces Many Challenges in 2024
There are many issues facing the BOP other than an antiquated system for addressing prisoner complaints as it heads into the new year. As the Office of Inspector General audit found in 2022, the BOP requires an estimated $2 billion for needed, major repairs in the coming years, but congress only appropriated approximately $59 million for BOP infrastructure needs that same year. In addition to deteriorating infrastructure, the BOP faces major staff shortages and turnover, with one of the lowest job satisfaction reported across all government agencies. There have been several attempts to alleviate some issues by lowering the inmate population, which had particular success under the First Step Act which was fully implemented in 2023 which allows credits for inmates who participate in certain programs and even allows certain inmates to complete their sentences on home confinement or halfway houses to lessen the burden on taxpayers and overcrowding. However, certain programs, such as the Elderly Offender Pilot Program, that allowed elderly prisoners to complete up to the last third of their sentence to be served on home confinement, have expired without a replacement program to take its place. Those serving sentences in federal custody and their families should monitor any legislation aimed at reducing custodial sentences and keep abreast with changes in federal custodial calculations in order to seek an early reprieve from their sentence. In addition, in the hands of the right lawyer, raising the issues at the BOP might positively effect or lower a defendant’s sentence at a sentencing hearing. Contact an experienced federal criminal defense attorney to learn of changes in the law that might benefit your loved ones both before or after they are sentenced.