The Bureau of Prisons' Actions Since the Danbury Fire

GGD-81-52: Published: Mar 9, 1981. Publicly Released: Mar 9, 1981.

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GAO surveyed the status of the efforts by the Bureau of Prisons to improve the fire safety programs at Federal institutions. A comprehensive effort was initiated by the Bureau after a fatal fire in l977 at the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution. At the same time, GAO performed a limited assessment of the Bureau's overall environmental health program.

In 1978, the Bureau issued specific guidelines for institutions to follow in making fire safety improvements to inmate housing. These guidelines specified the types of materials approved for walls, partitions, and ceilings; locks, signs, and doors to be used at building exits; and required alarms and protection systems in all living areas. The completion date was extended when officials learned that a great deal of confusion existed concerning the interpretation of the requirements. This confusion, coupled with limited funds, other demands on workers' time, and difficulty in obtaining materials, resulted in the revision of the target completion date to July 1980. However, progress has been noted. For example, the Bureau has involved local fire officials in institution safety programs. Safety officers were routinely familiarizing local fire officials with their institutions' layouts and structural conditions and seeking assistance with special problems. However, certain matters were noted that need attention, including the fact that: (1) institution safety officers could augment their technical knowledge by regularly taking advantage of outside expertise; (2) alternate safety officers are not being adequately trained; (3) trades foremen are not kept abreast of safety standards and product innovations, are not instructed in the proper use of specialized equipment, and are not aware of many Bureau safety requirements; and (4) more could be done to remedy safety hazards in community facilities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Bureau of Prisons should direct that all alternate safety officers be fully trained and given the opportunity to gain on-the-job experience so that they will be ready if it becomes necessary to call upon them in emergencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Bureau of Prisons

  2. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Bureau of Prisons should improve the ability of trades foremen to contribute to the Bureau's safety program. The foremen need technical training in safety standards and the use of specialized equipment. The Bureau should also (1) disseminate its program statement for safety to all those responsible for implementing it; (2) clarify its position on safety in the workplace; and (3) upgrade its efforts to monitor safety and sanitation conditions in contractor-operated community facilities by developing standards for inspections performed by State and local agencies and requiring that the reports of such inspections be sent to the community program officers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Bureau of Prisons


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