DOJ watchdog finds major issues at a federal prison in Oregon The shortage among the biggest obstacles facing the federal prison system and contribute to challenges at FCI Sheridan and other facilities, the Justice Department's inspector general says.


Lack of staffing led to 'deeply concerning' conditions at federal prison in Oregon

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A new report by the Justice Department's inspector general's office found a federal prison in Oregon had such low staffing that hundreds of inmates went without proper medical care. It all ties back to systemic problems that have plagued the Federal Bureau of Prisons for years. NPR's Jaclyn Diaz has more on the inspector general's report.

JACLYN DIAZ, BYLINE: Things were so bad at the Sheridan prison in Oregon that one inmate faked a suicide to get medical treatment for an infected ingrown hair. But because of staffing shortages at the prison, he wasn't able to get it treated. The inmate had to be hospitalized for five days in order to treat the infection.

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: It's a problem that is at least 20 years in the making.

DIAZ: That's Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department's inspector general. He said in an interview today that understaffing of both corrections officers and medical staff is the main reason for the medical delays, and it's a problem that is endemic throughout the federal prison system. That's according to a new report issued by Horowitz's office. An unannounced inspection at Sheridan last fall was the agency's third such visit to a facility run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Here's Horowitz again.

HOROWITZ: We've seen over and over again in our unannounced inspections of bureau prisons, is the challenges they face in meeting their mission of making prisons safe and secure and preparing inmates for reentry back into society.

DIAZ: This time, inspectors found a backlog of more than 700 lab orders for blood and urine and almost 300 X-ray orders. That could mean medical conditions going undiagnosed. There are waitlists hundreds of inmates long for mental health treatment, anger management classes and vocational training. More than 100 medical appointments outside of the prison were canceled because there just weren't enough officers to bring inmates to the medical facilities. That example of the inmate with the infected ingrown hair, Horowitz says that shows the impact both in time and expense of not addressing medical needs early. The BOP has said it has reduced the backlog and brought inmates to more than 80 of those canceled appointments. Horowitz said the problem is that officials at Sheridan have only been able to do that by pulling staff from other prisons to help.

HOROWITZ: What these inspections show is how serious the problem has now become.

DIAZ: Horowitz said this is a problem that's not going to get fixed overnight.

Jaclyn Diaz, NPR News.

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