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Bureau of Prisons 'deficiencies' behind 'many inmate deaths,' watchdog finds

The watchdog studied inmate deaths resulting from suicide, homicide, accidents and unknown factors from fiscal year 2014 through 2021.

Published: February 15, 2024 2:11pm

The Justice Department Inspector General released a report Thursday on its evaluation of 344 inmate deaths under the care of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the watchdog said it determined that the institutions had "deficiencies" at the time of many of the deaths. 

"Several operational and managerial deficiencies created unsafe conditions prior to and at the time of many inmate deaths. For example, more than half of the inmates who died by suicide were housed in a cell alone, which increases inmate suicide risk," the inspector general said on X, formerly Twitter, in a series of posts about its findings. 

The watchdog studied inmate deaths resulting from suicide, homicide, accidents and unknown factors from fiscal year 2014 through 2021. 

Most of the deaths, 187, were classified as suicides. Additionally, more than three-quarters of the 68 deaths that were classified as accidents or unknown involved drug overdoses, according to the report.

"We found that a combination of recurring policy violations and operational failures contributed to inmate suicides," the watchdog said. "Specifically, we identified deficiencies in staff completion of inmate assessments, which prevented some institutions from adequately addressing inmate suicide risks. We also found potentially inappropriate Mental Health Care Level assignments for some inmates who later died by suicide."

More than half of the inmates who committed suicide were kept alone in cells, which increases the risk of suicide, the inspector general said. 

Additionally, the Bureau of Prisons was unable to give the watchdog documents that the agency requires under its own policies for many of the inmate deaths, according to the inspector general. This lack of information limits the agency's ability to potentially prevent future deaths, according to the watchdog. 

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