The Bureau of Prisons' Actions Since the Danbury Fire

Gao ID: GGD-81-52 March 9, 1981

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.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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