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DOJ report highlights concerns over federal prisons SHU log policies after investigating inmate deaths

Concerns regarding the policies came to light during an OIG investigation of two COs who allegedly failed to do mandatory SHU rounds during or around the time of an assault that resulted in an inmate’s death

Federal Correctional Complex Terre Haute

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

By Erin Cleavenger
The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.

WASHINGTON — Following a 107-page report released earlier this month by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) detailing its evaluation of issues surrounding inmate deaths at federal prisons, the OIG expressed concerns.

The OIG released a separate memorandum notifying the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) institutions of specific issues pertaining to Special Housing Unit (SHU) logs used to record the mandatory rounds by corrections officers (CO) and how long those logs are retained.

According to the OIG, concerns regarding the policies came to light during its investigation of two COs who allegedly failed to do mandatory SHU rounds during or around the time of an assault that resulted in an inmate’s death.

The original report released by the OIG was prompted by investigations into the high-profile deaths of Jeffrey Epstein, who allegedly committed suicide at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City, and James “Whitey " Bulger, who was allegedly beaten to death by other inmates shortly after his arrival at the United States Penitentiary Hazelton in Bruceton Mills.

In the memorandum, it is unclear if the investigation of the two COs was in relation to the deaths of Epstein, Bulger or a different inmate death.

During the investigation, the OIG determined allegations that the two COs did not conduct their mandatory rounds and falsified the SHU log recording the rounds.

The BOP states that SHUs are housing units where inmates are “securely separated from the general population.” This separation is meant to ensure safety for all by providing “alternative housing assignments for inmates removed from the general population.”

Mandatory rounds, according to BOP policy, are to be done twice per hour on an irregular schedule with no more than 40 minutes between rounds. All CO observations during rounds are to be documented.

OIG investigators said they ran into another problem when they discovered the SHU log from the day they were investigating was “photocopied and placed back into the daily log binder, only for the original to be destroyed as a standard business practice approximately 30 days later.”

The failure to maintain original copies of the logs complicated the OIG’s potential criminal prosecution of the COs.

Specifically, the OIG stated its concern that the FBOP does not have a standard form for FBOP personnel to document mandatory SHU rounds or baseline standards for the information that must be documented on those forms.

Investigators found that FBOP’s practices regarding how long to keep SHU round logs also varies by institution and one or more institutions destroy such logs within 30 days. That is inconsistent with the record kept by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) which states FBOP has a six-month retention schedule for SHU round logs. The FBOP’s own policy documents do not say anything about the retention schedule for SHU round logs, the memorandum said.

“Even the six-month document retention schedule may be inadequate to meet the evidentiary needs of criminal investigations and prosecutions, " said the OIG of the police stated by NARA.

In her response to the OIG memorandum, FBOP Director Colette Peters states that the root cause of the issues mentioned by investigators relate “primarily to employee misconduct.”

“The facts and circumstances describe FBOP employees who falsified information and /or failed to retain logs used to record SHU rounds for the required retention period, " Peters wrote. “This fact pattern reflects a failure to follow FBOP’s longstanding policies, regulations, and /or laws.”

Peters said that while conduct described in the memorandum was “troubling, " the FBOP appropriate response is to hold such persons accountable so as to alert and deter others.

She also noted that “those who took part in such conduct represent a very small percentage of the approximately 35, 000 employees across more than 120 institutions who continue to strive for correctional excellence every day.”

While the OIG agreed that employee misconduct played a factor—it was the basis of the memorandum, in fact—they state “that finding does not address the systemic concerns we identified.”

Specifically, the OIG said they “identified a lack of consistency in BOP practices across institutions regarding retention of mandatory SHU round logs. Moreover, a BOP official at the institution where the misconduct occurred told the OIG that the institution has a practice of retaining such logs for only 30 days. These facts are indicative of a systemic problem requiring attention by the BOP.”

The FBOP agreed with all recommendations made by the OIG and Peters stated they will address the concerns identified.

The OIG will consider whether to close the recommendations after FBOP ensures and demonstrates the issues have been resolved.


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