Wyden, Merkley Press for Answers to Allegations of Retaliation Against Inmates at Federal Prison in Sheridan

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley this week asked federal officials to respond to “significant and troubling” reports about retaliation against inmates at the federal prison in Sheridan, as well as significant delays in access to treatment and evaluation for defendants in the federal criminal justice system in Oregon and nationwide with mental health conditions.

“We write today with deep concern about allegations of retaliation by guards against inmates at the federal correctional institution in Sheridan, Oregon (FCI Sheridan) and also about issues hurting the mental health of federal inmates nationwide,” Wyden and Merkley wrote federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Colette Peters, the former head of Oregon’s Department of Corrections. “We respectfully request an update about both of these significant and troubling issues.”

Wyden and Merkley cited recent news reports about retaliation and violence at FCI Sheridan against inmates for speaking out about unaddressed medical needs; small cell confinement; and limited access to family and lawyers as a result of the pandemic.

“Inmates’ claims of retaliation for speaking out include violence, targeted cell shake downs, and the tossing of personal items, such as medications,” Wyden and Merkley wrote. “The fact that these actions coincide with the inmates’ ongoing federal petition alleging conditions at FCI Sheridan violate their constitutional rights make these reports more troubling.”

Wyden and Merkley asked the BOP to answer these questions about Sheridan:

  • What procedures is the BOP taking to ensure humane conditions at FCI Sheridan, including permitting access for inmates to meet and speak with their families, counsel, and other support systems?
  •  What steps is the BOP taking to ensure that inmates are not confined in small spaces for long periods of time?
  •  How is the BOP ensuring that the health needs of inmates at FCI Sheridan are being addressed, and what is being done to ensure that inmates are not waiting too long to be examined and treated by medical professionals?
  •  Is the BOP investigating claims of retaliation by guards either from FCI Sheridan or from elsewhere against inmates at FCI Sheridan? If so, please provide:
    • The actions that have already been taken by the BOP;
    • The actions that the BOP is planning to take or considering; and
    • Any other information relevant to this request.
  •  What information or directives has been shared with staff and inmates at FCI Sheridan about these allegations of retaliation?
  • What procedures are in place to prevent retaliation by staff against inmates?
  • Which specific positions, if any, are currently vacant at FCI Sheridan?
  • Are you considering recommending direct hire authority for FCI Sheridan to address urgent staffing needs?

The senators also asked about reports they have received that a Special Operations Response Team (SORT) was brought in to FCI Sheridan. The requested the following information from the BOP:

  • Is there a SORT or other out of district officers at the FCI Sheridan currently or in the last several months?
    • If so, how many officers are involved? Are inmates able to visually identify the names and badge numbers of involved officers?
  • Why was this team brought to the FCI Sheridan? What is their role? Under what conditions will they be removed?

Wyden and Merkley also wrote in their letter about reports of significant delays in access to treatment and evaluation for defendants with mental health conditions in the federal criminal justice system in Oregon and nationwide. The senators noted that the Insanity Defense Reform Act requires the Department of Justice to “hospitalize [a] defendant for treatment in a suitable facility . . . for such a reasonable period of time, not to exceed four months, as is necessary to determine whether there is a substantial probability that in the foreseeable future he will attain the capacity to permit the proceedings to go forward.”

In response to those concerns about “competency restoration” and the BOP’s responsibility to meet that requirement, Wyden and Merkley asked for answers to the following questions:

  • How is the BOP planning to expand capacity at its current competency restoration facilities and what is the timeline for taking this step?
  •  Is the BOP considering expanding the number of facilities that offer treatment and evaluation by creating units in other federal facilities and by contracting with state and private facilities to implement programs that meet the federal requirements?
    • If so, what is this plan and what is the timeline for implementing it?
  • Is the BOP considering the cost-effective and often successful option of engaging with local resources for in-community competency restoration?
    • If so, what is this plan and what is the timeline for completing it?
  • Are there any other options the BOP is considering to address this issue, and what are they?

Wyden and Merkley asked Peters for responses to all their questions by September 19, 2022.

The senators’ entire letter is here.

A web version of this release is here.