The Justice Department would be required to establish guidelines for the federal Bureau of Prisons and state correctional systems to follow in order to notify the families of incarcerated people if their loved one suffers from a life-threatening illness or injury, or if they pass away while they are incarcerated. This requirement would be imposed by new legislation that has been introduced in the Senate.
The proposal, which was proposed by Senators Jon Ossoff of Georgia and John Kennedy of Louisiana, is the most recent step taken by members of Congress to increase oversight of the troubled federal prison system, which has lurched from crisis to crisis over the course of the past few years.
The introduction of the bill on Thursday comes more than two years after The Associated Press reported that the federal Bureau of Prisons had ignored its internal guidelines and failed to notify the families of inmates who were seriously ill with coronavirus while the virus raged through federal prisons across the United States. The Associated Press reported that the Bureau of Prisons had ignored its internal guidelines and failed to notify the families of inmates who were seriously ill with coronavirus. It also follows recent instances of behavior of a similar nature occurring in state prisons around the United States.
The reporting done by the Associated Press on the federal prison system has uncovered layer after layer of abuse, neglect, and leadership missteps in the Bureau of Prisons. These revelations include widespread sexual abuse by employees, severe staffing shortages, inmate escapes, and the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. These revelations directly led to the director of the agency announcing his resignation earlier this year.
Proposed Inmate Death Bill
The purpose of the proposed legislation, which will be known as the Family Notification of Death, Injury, or Illness in Custody Act of 2022, is to ensure that families are provided with timely notifications in the event that a member of their family experiences serious health complications while in custody.
The Associated Press (AP) reported in April of 2020 that officials at FCI Terminal Island, a federal prison in Los Angeles, had deviated from policy and chosen not to call the family of 59-year-old Michael Fleming, who had been hospitalized and put on a ventilator after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The AP also reported that the decision to not call the family was made despite the fact that Fleming had been diagnosed with COVID-19. On the day that his father passed away, the only phone call that his son got was from a prison chaplain who wanted to know whether or not the body should be burned and where the ashes should be sent.
Associated Press Work
An Associated Press journalist was the one who informed Fleming about the circumstances surrounding his father’s passing. According to the rules of the Bureau of Prisons, personnel at the prison were supposed to “promptly” contact the family of detainees who were suffering from serious illnesses. At the time, the government agency provided an explanation for its decision, stating that it “has discretion when making notifications.”
In an interview with the Associated Press in the year 2020, the younger Fleming remarked something along the lines of, “Not having the opportunity to say goodbye — that would’ve been invaluable.” “We will never have that chance.”
According to Ossoff’s office, incidents of a similar kind were also recorded at county jails and state prisons in the state of Georgia. In one occasion, a woman experienced a fall within the Clayton County Jail, and the injuries she sustained were so severe that she had to be sent to the hospital. She died soon after. Her loved ones didn’t find out until the woman’s long-term boyfriend tried to visit the jail but was informed that she was no longer being held there. Only then did her family learn the news. Another woman didn’t learn that her father had passed away in a Georgia state jail until she received a letter that was postmarked: “Return to sender: inmate dead” and sent to her. The letter was the first time the woman had any indication that her father had passed away.
“Too often, the families of those incarcerated never find out about a serious illness, a life-threatening injury, or even the death of a loved one behind bars. That’s why we introduced this bipartisan reform legislation,”Ossoff, a Democrat, said in a statement to the AP.
Kennedy, a Republican, stated that families “have the right to know about the well-being of their loved ones,” and that the purpose of their law is “simply to ensure that this happens.”
Ossoff is a part of a growing number of senators who are advocating for the confirmation of the director of the Bureau of Prisons by the Senate. Ossoff has been a consistent proponent of raising the level of transparency that exists within the federal prison system.
Following the publication of an Associated Press study that exposed systemic corruption and abuse in federal prisons, the senator from Georgia also initiated the formation of a bipartisan working group of legislators to investigate the conditions that exist within the Bureau of Prisons. Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican who represents Indiana, was instrumental in the formation of the group.