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5 Questions for Federal Prisons Chief When He Comes to Capitol Hill

Senators should demand that Charles Samuels account for the federal system’s mistreatment of mentally ill inmates.

Published: November 6, 2013

The Senate Judiciary Committee welcomes back to Capitol Hill tomorrow morning Charles Samuels, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, for a hearing about “cost-effective strategies for reducing recidivism.” (Spoiler alert: Start by providing adequate mental health care for inmates). This means that the lawmakers will have the opportunity to seek face-to-face answers from a man who has direct control over the lives of about 200,000 people and yet who is among the least accountable in all of government.

The last time Samuels came before Congress in public, in June 2012, he delivered a long statement defending the BOP’s policies and practices of solitary confinement. “Inmate safety and well being is of the utmost importance to the Bureau,” he said, before explaining why it is necessary to lock up federal prisoners in isolation for long periods. Pressed to acknowledge the substantial constitutional questions raised about the abuse and neglect of mentally ill prisoners in federal custody, Samuels tried to reassure lawmakers that there were enough mental health experts in prisons offering enough mental health care to alleviate the problem.

In the 17 months since that appearance, however, the problem of the BOP’s mistreatment of mentally ill prisoners has not gone away. In fact, from the government’s perspective (and from the perspective of the inmates) you could argue it has gotten worse. Two civil rights lawsuits filed in Colorado alleging systematic abuse at ADX-Florence, the “Supermax” facility that houses some of the nation’s most notorious prisoners, are now proceeding toward discovery and trial. Prison officials there soon will be deposed, forced to testify under oath and to release documents shedding light on the deplorable treatment of inmates.

Read the full article on The Atlantic's website.