ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Braun’s chance to make an impact

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(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

Mike Braun has rarely been hailed for bipartisanship, but his presence as co-leader of a group of lawmakers whose mission is to examine conditions within the U.S. Bureau of Prisons puts him in position to make a constructive contribution in the federal public policy arena.

The first-term Indiana Republican U.S. senator was tapped to lead the team along with fellow first-term Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia. Among the group will also be the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois.

Formation of the group was triggered by reporting from The Associated Press that uncovered widespread corruption and abuse in federal prisons. The group’s aim is to develop policies and proposals to strengthen oversight of the troubled prison system and improve communication between the Bureau of Prisons and Congress.

Indiana and Illinois play a significant role in the U.S. prison system, with major facilities in communities such as Terre Haute and Marion, Ill. Conditions of incarceration are important issues in all 122 prison facilities. The protection of human rights is a key element of a viable system, as is safety of the more than 35,000 employees who toil in various roles and facilities. The most recent federal prisoner count is more than 150,000.

In order to achieve those goals, the bureau must be more transparent and responsive to public inquiry and scrutiny.

Braun’s leadership appointment will require him to work in a bipartisan manner with Ossoff and others in the group and set aside what are clearly his strident ideological tendencies. We hope he’s up to the challenge.

The Associated Press exposed how the federal prison system had become a hot bed of corruption and misconduct. The agency has been plagued by myriad crises, including widespread criminal activity among employees, systemic abuse at a federal women’s prison in California, critically low staffing levels that hampered responses to emergencies, the rapid spread of COVID-19, a failed response to the pandemic and dozens of escapes. Late last month, two inmates were killed in a gang fight at a federal prison in Texas, prompting a nationwide lockdown.

Early this year, Bureau of Prisons director Michael Carvajal announced his resignation. A search for his replacement is underway.

The federal prison system is, as Sen. Ossoff told The AP, “horrifically dysfunctional.” A congressional effort to get to the root of the problem and find solutions is urgent and essential. The staff and inmates at Terre Haute’s federal facility — as well as at prisons in Illinois and across the country — are counting on this group of lawmakers to be effective and successful in carrying out its task.