Conditions at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta appear to be improving, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., said Wednesday after inspecting a facility that has drawn complaints from staff whistleblowers and inmates.
But it’s far too soon to declare the prison problem-free, Ossoff told reporters across the street from the facility after he and Colette Peters, the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ new director, completed their inspection.
“I heard a firm commitment from the new leadership to continue improving the facility,” Ossoff said. “But I’m not satisfied yet and will continue to hold this leadership accountable.”
Ossoff, chairman of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, led a 10-month investigation of the Atlanta penitentiary that found lax security, inmates denied proper nutrition and hygiene products, and a lack of inmate access to legal counsel.
“It was the internal assessment of the Bureau of Prisons that problems of this facility were severe, and they posed a threat to the broader community,” he said.
Ossoff’s subcommittee held a hearing last July that featured testimony from two former administrators at the prison describing severe abuse of inmates and inhumane conditions going back at least to 2014.
The senator asked pointed questions of then-bureau Director Michael Carvajal and was not satisfied with his answers, Ossoff said at the time.
Not only has Carvajal been replaced since then, but the Atlanta facility also has a new warden.
On Wednesday, Ossoff and Peters toured the penitentiary’s security facilities, a special housing unit, medical facilities, and the kitchen and food hall. They also spoke to a “broad range” of staff and inmates, Ossoff said.
“Our [subcommittee] findings laid out a wide range of deficiencies requiring remediation,” he said. “I want to see improvements across the board.”
Ossoff and Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., introduced legislation last month calling for greater oversight of the federal prison system. The bill would establish an independent ombudsman in the Justice Department to investigate the health, safety, welfare, and rights of prison inmates and staff and create a secure hotline for relatives and representatives of inmates to lodge complaints.
On Wednesday, Ossoff said the bill’s prospects for passage are favorable because it has bipartisan support.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.