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DC Corrections Council Report Slams USP Lewisburg’s “Special Management Unit”

by Derek Gilna

An April 6, 2018 report published by the District of Columbia’s Corrections Information Council (CIC) criticized the federal Bureau of Prisons’ Special Management Unit (SMU) at USP Lewisburg in Pennsylvania, citing numerous policy violations and violence. One incident involved a prisoner who lost an eye to a pepper ball fired by a guard.

Although the District of Columbia maintains a detention center, it routinely sends convicted prisoners to BOP prisons around the country. The Corrections Information Council was granted authority as an independent oversight agency to inspect and report on facilities where D.C. prisoners are held.

The SMU at USP Lewisburg, which is used to house prisoners in extremely restrictive conditions, had previously been criticized for failure to abide by BOP program statements regarding the treatment of prisoners. As noted in the CIC report, although “the length of the SMU program [went] from 18 to 24 months to 9 to 13 months, there have not been significant changes to the conditions of confinement for SMU inmates, such as use of and injuries from restraints, no access to emergency call buttons, lack of programming, and lack of access to mental health services.”

The report also noted that despite BOP directives to the contrary, staff at the facility routinely failed to provide “targeted re-entry programming” to move SMU prisoners back into general population, destroyed legal mail and retaliated when prisoners filed administrative grievances. “SMU inmates reported that staff frequently destroy administrative remedy requests by throwing them in the trash; consequently, the requests are never submitted,” the CIC wrote.

Even more problematic was a lack of access to mental health services unless a prisoner attempted suicide or threatened to harm himself.

“As reported by USP Lewisburg in response to CIC’s document request, inmates who have been diagnosed with a mental illness represent 19.5% of the SMU population. However, the Office of Inspector General found that the BOP could not accurately determine the number of inmates with mental illness because staff does not always document inmates’ mental illnesses.” The BOP denied there was a problem at the facility and claimed staff members were complying with policies.

A serious injury to former USP Lewisburg prisoner James Hunt was emblematic of problems involving use of force by staff at the facility. In a civil rights suit filed in January 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Hunt said he was struck in the eye by a pepper ball fired by a guard, which required the removal of his eye. It was at least the second such incident at the prison. See: Hunt v. Seeba, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 1:18-cv-00116-YK-SES. 


Sources:; USP Lewisburg SMU Report with BOP Response, by D.C. Corrections Information Council (April 2018)


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Related legal case

Hunt v. Seeba