The federal Bureau of Prisons is regularly excluding credible inmate testimony making or corroborating allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against agency employees, according to a new report, which found the informal policy could embolden bad actors to continue their inapprorpiate behavior.
The bureau’s Office of Internal Affairs will only consider inmate testimony when a case is accepted for criminal prosecution or if it is substantiated by video, conclusive forensic evidence or a confession. If a sexual assault allegation against an employee depends on an inmate’s account, then BOP does not pursue a misconduct case, the Justice Department’s inspector general found in a management advisory issued Thursday. That applies even when multiple inmates offer corroborating testimony, the IG said.
Bureau officials told the IG they generally only use inmate statements as an investigative lead. The investigators said the policy is in contradiction to inmate testimony being admissible in civil and criminal court and such accounts often being relied upon to make convictions against federal prison staff. The IG added the pattern of only considering cases that have been accepted for criminal prosecution was troubling, as administrative actions carry a lower evidentiary standard.
“Inmates are not disqualified from providing testimony with evidentiary value in federal courts, and there is no valid reason for the BOP to decline to rely on such testimony other than for investigative lead purposes in administrative matters, where the evidentiary standard is the preponderance of the evidence,” the IG said.
Agency officials pushed back on the IG’s findings.
“OIA did not say that BOP will not rely on inmate statements, nor did OIA say that it will substantiate misconduct only if there is evidence aside from inmate testimony, nor that inmate statements are used solely for investigative lead purposes,” the bureau said. “OIA routinely collects inmate statements during investigations which are relied upon during the course of the investigation. In some cases, inmate statements are used for investigative lead purposes, but that is not the sole purpose.”
The IG, however, said it received statements directly contradicting that statement on multiple occasions. The investigators went back to bureau employees and spoke to more individuals who substantiated the IG’s initial findings, noting the policy was never formalized but existed in practice nonetheless. The IG found multiple occasions in which the bureau substantiated allegations based on inmate statements but submitted lesser findings to the Office of Legal Counsel and the employee’s specific facility.