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National Park Service Lockups Improperly Managed

A report by the Office of the Inspector General (IG) of the U.S. Department of Interior released in May 2014, found that the lockups at Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks were out-of-compliance with the Departmental Manual and National Park Service (NPS) Law Enforcement Reference Manual. Examining twenty of those manuals' requirements on lockup operations, the IG found Yellowstone was out of compliance with 13 and only partially compliant with 6. Yosemite was out of compliance with 7 and only partially compliant with 10. In the case of Yellowstone, the IG issued an advisory to close the facility due to safety concerns because no detention officer was stationed at the facility. The NPS then changed its policy to have a detention officer stationed at the facility when it held a prisoner.

The NPS operates lockups at 26 sites, 11 of them in Washington, D.C. Lockups are intended to hold prisoners for less than 48 hours unless a magistrate judge orders longer incarceration there. Yellowstone and Yosemite were inspected by the IG because each reported about 150 annual detentions.

The Yellowstone lockup was monitored by closed circuit television (CCTV) from the Yellowstone Justice Center, about a quarter mile from the lockup. If an emergency was noted on the CCTV, rangers could reach the lockup in 5 minutes. The IG noted that, since monitoring the CCTV was collateral duty for a dispatcher, an emergency might not be immediately noted and, even if it were, 5 minutes could be too much time in the event of a medical emergency. Although located on site, Yosemite detention officers failed to monitor prisoners in person every half hour, often relying on CCTV instead.

The IG found that neither park met the manuals' requirements for monitoring of prisoners, inspections, emergency planning, evacuation planning or the use of CCTV. Amazingly, the report noted that neither facility had written plans for fires nor major emergencies and neither had performed the mandatory quarterly evacuation drills. Both facilities also lacked a formal inspection program to review operations, equipment and facilities and lacked sufficient female officers to conduct same-sex pat down searches.

The $6.8 million Yellowstone Justice Center was constructed in 2008 to replace a building originally built in 1903 as an engineer's office. It was supposed to include a detention wing, but budget constrains resulted in the cancellation of that wing. Thus, prisoners at Yellowstone are detained in a building built by the U.S. Army in 1911 for use as a guard house.

"The facility was refurbished in 2009 to modern jail standards," according to Yellowstone spokesman A1 Nash. "It contains 4 cells and can holdup to 18 prisoners."

It was "somewhat ironic that the federal government wasn't following its own rules," said PLN managing editor and prisoner advocate Alex Friedmann.

"It's usually the case that the federal government is very big on making sure regulations are followed by everyone. If you're going to run a lockup and deprive people of one of their fundamental rights, maybe you need to do it properly and according to your own rules."

Friedmann noted that a person locked up for being under the influence of drugs or alcohol might soon suffer from potentially fatal health problems caused by the drugs or alcohol and require immediate medical attention, yet might go unnoticed for hours on an intermittently monitored CCTV. He also questioned whether Yellowstone needed its own federal jail and courthouse since it is no longer a remote, inaccessible outpost.

Sources: National Park Service Lockup Facility Management, Report No. WR-IS-NPS-0001-2014,

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