Inspections prompt changes at mismanaged Yellowstone, Yosemite jails

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 19, 2014 8:38 PM

By Ruffin Prevost

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The National Park Service says it has revamped operations at jail facilities in two of its largest and most popular parks after a review by federal auditors revealed that the detention sites were being improperly managed.

But the agency has been slow in releasing additional public documents related to jail problems, and it was unclear what consequences, if any, facility managers faced for failing to abide by federal rules in supervising the lockups at Yellowstone and Yosesmite national parks.

The inspector general for the Interior Department, the parent agency of the Park Service, found in its review that "neither park complied with departmental requirements regarding inmate monitoring, inspections, emergency planning and evacuation planning."

The report, completed in May but only publicly released last month, focused on failures by jailers in both parks to personally monitor detainees at least every 30 minutes, as required. Monitoring was instead done primarily by closed-circuit television.

Inspectors in Yellowstone "found that detention officers did not directly supervise inmates" and only personally observed inmates "when delivering meals or transporting inmates" to a courthouse less than a half mile away in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming.

An earlier inspector general's memorandum, issued in January 2014 after an initial jail inspection, recommended closure of the Yellowstone facility until changes could be implemented, based on concerns about health and safety at that lockup.

But Yellowstone's jail was kept open because park managers began to make changes called for by the memo, Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson said. He said Yosemite in California likewise was implementing reforms urged by the inspector general.

Olson, citing administrative difficulties in his office posed by holiday staff shortages, said he was unable this week to provide copies of the Jan. 13 Yellowstone jail closure advisory or the Jan. 27 response from the Park Service.

Olson also said he had "no idea" whether any Park Service employee had faced disciplinary measures for failing to follow Interior Department procedures.

Yellowstone and Yosemite maintain jails where about 150 people end up detained every year in each park, typically for less than two days, for various infractions. A federal magistrate judge is stationed at each park.

The Park Service operates lockup facilities at 26 different sites in all, including 11 U.S. Park Police locations in and around New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Other sites include large, remote parks such as the Grand Canyon and Hawaii Volcanoes national parks.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker)