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Grassley Scrutinizes Serious Issues Plaguing Federal Prison System

At today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, former chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) questioned Justice Department (DOJ) witnesses about glaring issues across federal prisons, citing his oversight exposing misconduct allegations at FCC Hazelton and the Biden administration’s neglect to safeguard unaccompanied children who’ve entered the U.S. under the president’s open border policies. Testifying were Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Colette Peters and Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz.

The government vets adults supervising inmates more thoroughly than adults receiving custody of kids

Peters confirmed to Grassley that BOP would not let a correctional officer supervise adult inmates without passing background and fingerprint checks. However, the government’s vetting standards for individuals sponsoring unaccompanied children are far more lenient. Grassley is demanding stricter safety and security protocols for sponsors of unaccompanied migrant children:


“If folks who haven’t passed an FBI background check aren’t allowed to supervise adults, we shouldn’t give them custody of unaccompanied alien children. However, the Office of Refugee Resettlement doesn’t require FBI background checks for all sponsors, and it refuses to give law enforcement information on the sponsors, even if a child’s wellbeing is in question. Seems to me this would have to stop. I hope this committee brings in more witnesses on this issue and takes up meaningful legislation to protect these kids.” 


Grassley’s oversight revealed serious abuse and miscount claims at a West Virginia prison; BOP has yet to address his findings

Fourteen FCC Hazelton inmates died in BOP custody between 2014 and 2021. Grassley and his colleagues in September pressed BOP about whistleblower claims of misconduct at the West Virginia facility. Their disclosures include allegations of extensive abuse against incarcerated individuals and document falsification regarding medical assessments, prison escapes and erroneous prisoner releases. BOP still has not responded to the lawmakers. Grassley demanded to know why, as well as “what [BOP is] doing to straighten out the significant problems at Hazelton that we’ve brought to your attention?”


Peters did not comment on the status of BOP’s response to Grassley and his colleagues. She discussed administrative issues like maintenance repair backlogs and contraband within federal prisons, as well as staffing shortages: “Recruitment and retention is a crisis at the Bureau of Prisons, and Hazelton is not alone in that.”


The DOJ IG’s annual report consistently points to BOP as a primary challenge facing the department. The Government Accountability Office recently added BOP to its list of programs at high risk for waste, fraud and abuse.


Congress is expecting a thorough investigation into DOJ’s 2017 subpoenas for congressional phone records

Grassley sought an update about the watchdog report on DOJ’s hush decision to subpoena congressional phone records in 2017, which he’s concerned the agency could have used to keep tabs on legislators and their staff who were looking into its misguided, and now-discredited, Crossfire Hurricane investigation. Horowitz doubled down on his past commitments to cover in his final report “most, if not all” the information Grassley has demanded.


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