Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Thursday called a halt to the use of prison labor in the national parks after a federal investigation found inmates obtained knives and other contraband after working unsupervised at a campground.
Mr. Bernhardt ordered the National Park Service to “immediately cease” the use of prison labor, rendering any agreements null and void, and develop policies in response to problems unearthed in an Office of the Inspector General investigation.
“To ensure the safety of visitors and employees at our national parks, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt ordered the National Park Service to immediately cease the use of all prison labor and develop guidance and policies to address issues and deficiencies raised by the Inspector General,” said a DOI spokesperson.
The OIG report released Thursday found that NPS employees with no training in overseeing prisoners were placed in charge of inmates with criminal histories of drug and firearms convictions. Prisoners who worked for about two hours at a campground without supervision were later found with contraband, including knives.
“NPS employees were overseeing the work detail program without any formal training or guidance, which led to inmates gaining access to contraband such as tools and knives,” said the OIG. “We found that the NPS has no relevant policies or formal procedures in place for the management of inmates while they are under the supervision of the NPS.”
The prison work agreements between the local superintendents and prison facilities varied from park to park, and that “two national parks used prison work details without any written agreement,” said the report.
“The absence of NPS policies and oversight regarding prison work details at NPS properties creates risks to NPS employees, park visitors, and the prison community, and may expose the U.S. Department of the Interior to liability,” said the OIG.
Mr. Bernhardt directed the NPS to “develop guidance and polices to address these significant issues and deficiencies” within the next 60 days.
The National Park Service operates 419 properties, including 62 designated national parks, covering 85 million acres across all 50 states.