Surprise inspection of Waseca prison uncovers ‘many significant issues,’ DOJ says

Surprise inspection at Waseca women’s prison

Surprise inspection at Waseca women's prison

A surprise inspection of the federal women’s prison in Waseca uncovered “many significant issues,” according to a Department of Justice report released Wednesday.

This was the first unannounced inspection under the DOJ Office of the Inspector General’s new inspections program, which is expected to include inspections at other federal prisons across the country in the coming months.

The on-site inspection happened sometime in late January or early February, with a team of nine making physical observations, interviewing staff and inmates, reviewing security camera footage and collecting records.

“While FCI Waseca is generally well-run and both inmates and staff reported feeling safe, it suffers from a significant shortage of correctional officers,” said Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

According to the report, the prison is running with only 67% of its correctional service positions filled, leading to the temporary assignment of non-correctional officer personnel into correctional officer positions, a practice known as augmentation.

Correctional officer posts were filled most commonly with personnel from the Facilities Department, Unit Team and Education Department.

“If you’re a maintenance man, you certainly don’t have the qualifications to be a corrections officer,”  said Sheila Gardner, whose sister is serving a sentence at Waseca right now. “I’ve been thinking this is crazy for quite a while already. I think it’s time that something is done and I hope that this is the first step to it.”

The report also notes that augmentation “creates a cascading set of consequences” due to staff being taken away from their regularly assigned duties.

For example, maintenance crews are not able to perform preventative maintenance and inmate programs are being canceled because of a lack of education staff, including programs designed to give prisoners skills to successfully reintegrate into society.

“We also identified staff shortages in both FCI Waseca’s health services and psychology services departments which have caused delays in physical and mental health care treatment. Such delays can potentially result in more serious health issues for inmates, create further demands on health care staff and increase the costs of future treatments,” Horowitz said.

The report also documents ‘serious facility issues’ affecting the conditions for inmates, such as pipes leaking next to prisoners’ beds and roof damage leading to unsanitary food services situations.

Horowitz said the prison’s security cameras are also extremely outdated with many blind spots, leading to drugs and other contraband getting into the prison.

“It’s critical the BOP(Bureau of Prisons) develops a strategic approach to address these significant challenges and ensure that federal prisons are safe, secure and efficiently run,” Horowitz said.

You can read the full DOJ report here.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to the Federal Bureau of Prisons for a reaction to these findings and received this statement in response:

“The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has received the DOJ Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) report titled, ‘Inspection of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Federal Correctional Institution Waseca.’ The report focused on the Conditions of the Facility and Staffing Challenges at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Waseca.

The BOP has taken specific steps to address possible areas of concern such as relocating individuals from top bunks in basement housing to other areas of the institution.  Regarding staffing, the BOP has been pursuing strategies to modernize hiring across the agency.  This includes recruitment and retention incentives, direct hire authority, medical professionals’ pay flexibilities, and accelerated correctional officer promotions.  The BOP has also engaged in ongoing branding and marketing campaign strategies to promote agency awareness through National Recruitment Days, increase candidate engagement, and drive quality individuals to apply for targeted roles nationwide.  The BOP appreciates the OIG’s important work and will work closely with the office on future action and implementation efforts.

It is the mission of the BOP to operate facilities that are safe, secure, and humane.  The BOP takes seriously the duty to protect the individuals entrusted in our custody, as well as maintain the safety of correctional staff and the community.”

Federal Bureau of Prisons