Watchdog: No Inmate's Transfer Should Go Like Bulger's Did

Justice Department's inspector general finds failures, but no malicious intent
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 7, 2022 1:16 PM CST
Watchdog: Prison Failures Led to Bulger's Brutal Slaying
This June 23, 2011, file booking photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows James "Whitey" Bulger.   (U.S. Marshals Service via AP, File)

A series of missteps by federal Bureau of Prisons officials preceded the October 2018 beating death of notorious Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, the Justice Department's inspector general said in a report on Wednesday, per the AP. The watchdog is recommending that at least six Bureau of Prisons workers be disciplined, according to the report. The inspector general found no evidence that there was "malicious intent" by any Bureau of Prisons employees involved in decisions made before Bulger's slaying but found multiple levels of management failures that left Bulger at the mercy of rival gangsters behind bars.

The report found that Bureau of Prisons officials had shared information about Bulger's transfer widely and that officials had tried several times to downgrade his medical status, meaning he could be moved to other prisons, and then moved him from being housed alone at a prison in Florida to being housed in general population at a West Virginia prison. "In our view, no BOP inmate's transfer, whether they are a notorious offender or a non-violent offender, should be handled like Bulger's transfer," the report said. It's the latest example of a serious failure by the federal Bureau of Prisons, which has been under increasing scrutiny from Congress and the public after the deaths of several high-profile inmates, including wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who died in custody in 2019.

An AP investigation has found myriad crises within the agency, including widespread criminal conduct by employees, rampant allegations of sexual assault, and significant staffing shortages that have hampered responses to emergencies. Bulger was beaten to death hours after he arrived at West Virginia's Hazelton prison after causing problems at the Florida lockup, where he had been serving a life sentence for 11 murders and other crimes. Federal prosecutors have charged three men, including a Mafia hitman, in Bulger's killing. Bulger led a largely Irish mob and served as as FBI informant before he fled Boston and spent 16 years on the lam. He was captured at age 81 in Santa Monica, California. (More Whitey Bulger stories.)

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