Warden let heat, cameras fail at federal lockup: watchdog

Warden let heat, cameras fail at federal lockup: watchdog

The warden of a federal prison in California failed to fix a broken camera system in the lockup and kept prisoners in the cold after a heating malfunction during an unusually cold winter, the Justice Department’s official watchdog found. 

The unidentified warden “risked the safety and security of inmates and staff” with the 2019 heating and surveillance failures at the prison near Los Angeles, according to a heavily redacted report of the probe obtained by The Post through a Freedom of Information Act request. 

Investigators with the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General also found the warden “lacked candor” in sworn interviews with agents. The DOJ’s Public Integrity Section declined to prosecute after the investigation, according to the documents. 

The facility is not named in the report, but the details of the broken heating system match those published by the Los Angeles Times in a 2019 report about Terminal Island prison, a low-security lockup in Los Angeles Harbor near the city of Long Beach. 

The prison has reportedly housed a number of notable criminals throughout the years, including gangsters such as Al Capone and “Goodfella” Henry Hill. LSD booster Timothy Leary also reportedly served time there, as did cult leader Charles Manson.

Terminal Island prison
DOJ’s official watchdog determined the warden risked the safety of inmates and staff with the oversight.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

The heating at the facility broke down because of a damaged steam pipe “during a period of unusually cold weather,” according to the OIG report. The investigators determined temps plunged to 37 degrees during the time the heating did not work. 

Inmates reported to investigators that they were held in cells without heat for more than a month, with one estimating he didn’t have heat for a 45-day period. 

“At one point [redacted] estimated that it was 39 degrees in his cell,” the report states. 

The warden responded by eventually transferring the inmates to other facilities and providing additional blankets, but the inspector general determined the official risked the safety of staff and inmates by “failing to address the lack of adequate heating.”

The warden ordered space heaters during the period, but they were not delivered until after the inmates were transferred, according to the documents. 

Terminal Island prison
The facility is not named in the report, but details of the heating outage match those reported by the Los Angeles Times about Terminal Island prison.

The investigators also found the warden failed to fix a broken camera system at the lockup for more than a year – despite several staff members at the facility knowing about the failed surveillance system. 

“During the investigation, the OIG found that numerous cameras were non-functioning throughout [redacted]. Further, the OIG learned that [redacted] had knowledge of the non-functioning cameras for months and took no corrective action,” the report states. 

In an interview with investigators, the warden admitted they “knew for ‘a while’ that the cameras around the institution had been down but never reported it to [redacted] or anyone else in [redacted]. 

The report adds the warden: “also admitted knowing that the camera outage was a safety issue.”

Investigators determined the warden knowingly failed to fix the camera system for more than a year, according to the report. 

“The OIG found indications that [redacted] knowingly failed to maintain a fully functioning camera system throughout the facility for more than a year and failed to report the issue to BOP’s regional management for remedy,” the report states. 

The Bureau of Prisons has repeatedly come under scrutiny in recent years for mismanagement and corruption at the agency. 

Bureau of Prisons seal
The Bureau of Prisons has come under scrutiny in recent years after a series of high-profile corruption and mismanagement cases.
Federal Bureau of Prisons

In New York, the agency shuttered the notorious Metropolitan Correctional Center last year after a series of high-profile scandals at the lockup, including pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. 

Two guards who were supposed to check on Epstein throughout the night instead slept during their shifts and falsified records about what they did that night. 

In 2019, a fire at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn caused a heating outage that spanned days during frigid temperatures in January and February. 

A BOP spokesperson did not immediately return request for comment about the OIG’s findings.

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