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ELKTON PRISON Agency studies request for probe



Published: Fri, June 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The agency being asked to investigate reports to the U.S. attorney general and to Congress.

By NORMAN LEIGH

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

ELKTON -- It may be a while before the inspector general office of the U.S. Department of Justice decides whether to undertake a probe of allegations of overcrowding and poor conditions at the federal prison here.

Atty. Paul Martin, counselor to Inspector General Glenn Fine, said without elaborating Thursday that Fine's office would gather more information regarding the probe request and make a decision in coming weeks.

U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland, D-17th, is seeking the investigation.

Traficant initially asked the U.S. General Accounting Office in April to scrutinize the allegations, which have been made to the congressman by inmates and their families.

Traficant isn't divulging specifics about the complaints.

The GAO was asked first to handle the probe in April because the agency has oversight of federal programs.

The GAO, however, told Traficant's office it typically probes allegations regarding systemwide problems, Straub said.

Narrowing the probe: Although a federal bureau of prisons spokeswoman has acknowledged overcrowding in many federal prisons, Traficant wants an investigation aimed primarily at the lockup in Elkton, not the entire federal prison system, Straub explained.

By narrowing the scope of his investigation request, Traficant is hopeful it could be completed more swiftly, Straub added.

Traficant's office forwarded its probe request to the Justice Department's inspector general office early this month.

Martin described the IG as an independent agency that reports to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft as well as Congress.

The IG frequently scrutinizes allegations regarding the bureau of prisons, which is overseen by the Justice Department.

Typically, the IG looks into complaints from inmates regarding possible misconduct by specific corrections officers, Martin said.

"This is certainly not a routine case," Martin said of Traficant's plea for an investigation concerning an entire institution.

What numbers show: "The numbers don't lie. It is overcrowded," Straub said of the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution.

The prison consists of a low-security institution with a 1,536-inmate capacity and an adjacent low-security satellite facility with a 600-inmate capacity.

The prison's weekly population report states that 1,884 prisoners are housed in the institution and 600 inmates are in the satellite facility.

leigh@vindy.com




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