Director Colette Peters called the inspector general’s findings “troubling” and agreed with all of the report’s recommendations

Director Colette Peters called the inspector general’s findings “troubling” and agreed with all of the report’s recommendations SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Federal prison employees falsified logs in case where inmate committed suicide, IG says

The Justice Department inspector general last week urged the Bureau of Prisons to adopt stricter rules governing special housing unit rounds logs after lax policies potentially impaired the ability to prosecute the employees.

Lax rules around the creation and preservation of rounds logs in restrictive housing at federal prisons could contribute to inmates’ deaths and hamper accountability, the Justice Department’s inspector general said last week.

In a management advisory memorandum to U.S. Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his office began investigating the document retention policies surrounding logs at the special housing units of federal prisons after OIG officials found that in at least one inmate’s death, two correctional officers had falsified records after failing to conduct mandatory rounds.

The investigation itself came following a wider investigation into inmate deaths in federal prisons, which found that a combination of understaffing and mismanagement contributed to the deaths of nearly 350 inmates between the 2014 and 2021 fiscal years, more than half of which were suicides.

In his memo, Horowitz said that inconsistent—and lax—policies governing the log forms correctional officers must fill out corresponding with their doing special housing unit rounds may have impeded the inspector general’s ability to hold them accountable.

“The OIG identified these concerns in connection with an OIG investigation of two COs who allegedly failed to conduct mandatory SHU rounds during or around the time of an assault that resulted in an inmate’s death,” he wrote. “The OIG substantiated allegations that the COs did not conduct multiple mandatory rounds and that the COs falsified the SHU log used to record the mandatory rounds. The investigation further disclosed that the SHU log used to record the mandatory rounds on the day of the assault . . . was photocopied and placed back into the daily log binder, only for the original to be destroyed as a standard business practice approximately 30 days later. This failure to maintain original copies complicated potential criminal prosecution of the COs.”

During its investigation, the inspector general’s office found that although the National Archives and Records Administration’s policy for special housing unit logs is that they be preserved for six months before destruction, the Bureau of Prisons has promulgated no such policy, leading to wildly different document retention standards, ranging from as little as one month to the recommended six months, to as long as 10 years. Horowitz recommended that the agency come up with a single set of standards for retaining special housing unit logs and suggested that an exception to the rule be made in the case of an inmate’s death.

“The OIG has conducted numerous investigations of allegations that BOP employees falsified round documentation; thus, such documentation is often important evidence in criminal investigations and prosecutions,” Horowitz wrote. “Moreover, investigations of BOP employees who allegedly falsified round documentation are often initiated as a result of information discovered during investigations of criminal conduct by inmates. However, the BOP’s crime scene management and evidence control policy does not specifically require collection and preservation of evidence concerning potentially related staff misconduct when a crime involving inmates has occurred . . . If documentation related to potential staff misconduct, such as mandatory round logs, are only retained for six months, such evidence may be destroyed before the discovery that a crime occurred.”

The inspector general recommended that the Bureau of Prisons set up a single set of standards for special housing unit rounds documentation—though agency officials said a single standardized form would be impossible due to the varying layouts of federal prisons— and reassess its policies to ensure that rounds documentation is preserved as evidence in instances when they could be used as part of criminal or administrative accountability investigations.

In her response, Peters called the inspector general’s findings “troubling” and agreed with all of the report’s recommendations, though she stressed that the misconduct cited was one by a “very small percentage of the approximately 35,000 employees . . . who continue to strive for correctional excellence every day.”