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Justice Department report finds federal prison failures lead to deaths

The report notes problems such as a lack of security cameras and staffing shortages forcing health care workers to work guard shifts.
Justice Department report finds federal prison failures lead to deaths
Posted at 5:19 PM, Feb 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-16 22:25:15-05

In a new report, the inspector general at the Department of Justice highlights several failures by the Federal Bureau of Prisons that contributed to the deaths of hundreds of inmates.

Of the 344 inmates in federal prison who died between 2014 and 2021, more than half of those deaths — 187 total — were suicides.

Hanging, drug overdose and blunt force trauma were the most common causes of death.

The report notes several problems, like lack of security cameras and staffing shortages forcing health care workers to work guard shifts, which means less mental health care for inmates.

It also says BOP already has policies in place to try to prevent inmate suicides, but that operational failures contributed to the suicides. 

And it found there were a number of inaccurate mental health screenings for inmates who ultimately died by suicide.

"There were shortcomings in BOP staff's emergency responses, ranging from a lack of urgency in responding to failure to bring or use appropriate emergency equipment to unclear radio communications, and to issues with naloxone administration in opioid overdose cases," said Michael Horowitz, inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice.

The report comes after several high-profile deaths in federal prisons in recent years, including the suicide of convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein in 2019.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement saying in part: "It is deeply disturbing that today's report found that the majority of BOP's non-medical deaths in custody could have been prevented or mitigated by greater compliance with BOP policy, better staffing, and increased mental health and substance abuse treatment. Accountability across the bureau is necessary and long overdue."

The DOJ issued a list of recommendations as part of its report, including developing strategies to ensure inmate mental health is correctly evaluated.

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