Inmates left unsupervised in national parks during work release, endangering visitors

Interior Department watchdog warns lack of measures puts park worker and visitors at risk.

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National Park Sign
A National Park Service sign outside one of its parks in New York.
John Nacion/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Updated: April 29, 2020 - 7:33am

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The National Park Service lacks adequate security measures to supervise prisoners performing jobs in America's national parks, the Interior Department's internal watchdog is warning.

The problems surfaced during a recent Inspector General investigation that discovered that inmates convicted of firearms and drug offenses had obtained dangerous contraband, including knives and tools, after being left unsupervised for two hours in a national park campground while on a prison-release work detail.

"We found that the NPS has no relevant policies or formal procedures in place for the management of inmates while they are under the supervision of the NPS," the Interior Department inspector general warned in a report earlier this month.

"The absence of NPS policies and oversight regarding prison work details at NPS properties creates risks to NPS employees, park visitors, and the prison community, and may expose the U.S. Department of the Interior to liability," the report warned.

You can read the full memo here.

 

 

The report recommended that the Park Service:

  • Develop and implement policies and procedures that standardize agreements between the NPS and prisons, define how NPS employees use inmate work details, and establish requirements for transporting and supervising inmates.
  • Require all agreements between the NPS and Federal, State, or private prisons to be reviewed and approved by NPS headquarters.
  • Train NPS employees assigned to duties associated with prison work details on specific safety issues related to transporting and supervising prisoners.

The inspector general said the recent incident highlighted the vulnerability of park workers currently supervising work-release inmates until these new procedures are implemented.

"This policy void led to NPS employees overseeing prison inmates without any training or formal guidance, inmates gaining access to contraband such as tools and knives, and inmates being left working unsupervised for hours while on park grounds," the watchdog noted.

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