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Watchdog Finds “Alarming Conditions” at BOP Women’s Lockup in Florida

by David M. Reutter

 

When confronted with prisoner complaints, officials often produce glowing inspection reports and blame prisoners for destroying prison infrastructure. All too often, though, inept supervision is to blame for failure to maintain facilities. As many prisoners will tell you, when an inspection is looming, the prisonis transformed in preparation.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has a new “on-sight inspection program.” The second unannounced inspection made under the policy occurred from May 22 to 26, 2023, at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Tallahassee, a low security prison built in 1938 that was converted in 1992 to house female prisoners for the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). A satellite detention center for males was opened in 1996. Inspectors highlighted four areas of concern in their report on FCI-Tallahassee: food service, facilities condition, staffing shortages and prison safety and security.

A June 2022 survey of prisoners resulted in 55% rating food quality poor. Surveyed prisoners also said that outdated food was being served. The unannounced OIG inspection found “alarming conditions” in food service and storage. “[M]oldy bread had been served” at lunch and “discolored and rotting vegetables were being stored,” perhaps for future use, but in any event too near food preparation areas. Inside food storage and freezer units, inspectors found insects and “likely evidence of rodent droppings.” Rodents had apparently “chewed through the exterior of food packaging,” and damaged food containers “had warped or were leaking.” A large hole found in a nearby wall provided access to rodents and insects.

The chow hall contained “numerous broken stools, with sharp edges that could cause injury” or “be used as weapons,” plus “cracks in the walls and loose ceiling tiles.” Additional “serious infrastructure and facilities issues” were found throughout the prison. In housing areas, “water frequently leaked from ceilings and windows in or near [prisoners’] living spaces.” Inspectors observed “poor conditions inside communal inmate bathrooms.” However, conditions in the detention center housing areas exhibited no serious issues.

Staff shortages were a serious concern. Forced overtime was the norm. The lack of staff raised safety issues, but the introduction of contraband seemed to be of the greatest concern to inspectors. It was also noted that guards failed to regularly conduct rounds. Inspectors further found guards do not consistently enforce rules and often directed offensive language towards prisoners, which “undermined trust between staff and inmates.” Issues were identified from inadequate security camera coverage and improper use of restrictive housing.

On the heels of the inspection, OIG made no recommendations but promised to monitor BOP efforts to address the issues found. See: Inspection of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Federal Correctional Institution Tallahassee, DOJ/OIG Report No. 24-005 (November 2023).

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