WASHINGTON – The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) today announced a series of reforms to the Office of Justice Services (OJS) Correctional Program to protect the rights, dignity and safety of those who are in custody.
After concerning reports about the treatment of incarcerated individuals, to include 16 inmate deaths in custody between 2016 and 2020, the BIA launched a three-month review in the Fall of 2021. The review included the commissioning of a third-party report to review current conditions in BIA operated and funded detention facilities. There are a total of 96 Corrections programs funded by the BIA, 26 operated by the BIA and 70 operated by Tribes.
“As the son of a corrections officer, I value the wellbeing of all people, those in our custody as well as those responsible for providing a safe and rehabilitative environment,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. “We will not shy away from acknowledging the past and taking ownership of the path to improve conditions in our facilities. The reforms we are announcing today represent a new chapter for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as we move toward organizational culture change.”
The report lays out recommendations for the Interior Department informed by an assessment of the thoroughness and effectiveness of the 16 closed in-custody investigations, if the BIA’s current in-custody death investigation reporting meets modern standards, whether the incident investigations met common industry standards for proper evaluation, and whether investigators have proper training and skills to effectively investigate in-custody death incidents.
Consistent with the findings of the bureau’s review, BIA is moving forward with more than two dozen reforms focused on:
- Updating policies and implementing consistent standards across corrections facilities;
- Improving the recruitment, retention, training and morale of staff; and
- Improving interagency coordination with federal partners to ensure safety for inmates and accountability for correctional officers.
Assistant Secretary Newland will further outline the reforms that the BIA has undertaken, as well as the overall culture change he is overseeing at OJS to place peoples’ safety and wellbeing at the core of the organization, at the National Congress of American Indians 2022 Executive Council Winter Session later today.