Atlanta’s federal penitentiary being inspected after inmates could come and go through holes

ATLANTA — The new Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons is inspecting the troubled Atlanta Federal Penitentiary alongside U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff.

Ossoff told Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Justin Gray that Director Colette Peters committed to changing and improving the prison in southeast Atlanta.

“I want to be really clear, I’m not here to tell you the problems are solved. What I’m here to tell you is, I’m seeing some indication that the Bureau of Prisons, for the first time in a decade, is getting serious about solving them, and I’m going to continue to push them to solve these problems,” Ossoff said

Channel 2 Action News has reported on security lapses at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for several years.

In 2018, we learned that some inmates were coming and going through holes in the fences and smuggling in contraband liquor, cigarettes and cellphones.

In 2019, we reported on an inmate even using a contraband cell phone to broadcast a Facebook livestream from his prison cell.

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A U.S. Senate Committee investigation led by Senator Ossoff uncovered back in July that security and safety lapses at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary are so bad, a government assessment called it a security risk for people across the southeast.

The committee’s investigation uncovered thousands of pages of internal records documenting mismanagement and wrongdoing at the facility in Southeast Atlanta dating back nine years.

Among the safety concerns identified, 800 contraband cell phones were confiscated in a 2021 sweep. In 2020, more than half of the surveillance cameras did not work. 142 of 253 cameras were down, and even the ones in operation were three hours off in recording time.

The investigation also uncovered that staff “intentionally damaged” the prison’s drug detection machine. It did not work for a year.

After the inspection, Ossoff expressed optimism that the new leadership in Washington and in Atlanta appear ready to address the problems.

“I heard a firm commitment from the new leadership to continue to improving this facility and safeguarding public safety in this community,” Ossoff said.


While Director Peters did not speak publicly on her visit to Atlanta, she testified before a Senate committee in September that she is committed to increasing accountability.

“We have to know, I have to know, headquarters needs to know when there are things that are not working when there allegations of misconduct we have to be informed,” Peters said.

Whistleblowers who previously worked behind the walls at that federal prison in Atlanta testified under oath on Capitol Hill to the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations in July. The committee is chaired by Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff.

“It is now a penitentiary in name only,” the facility’s former chief psychologist, Erika Ramirez, testified.

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Former jail administrator Terri Whitehead testified that Bureau of Prisons employees even had a nickname for the disfunction. They called it “the Atlanta Way.”

“The Atlanta way is far from the norm and certainly not the U.S. Bureau of Prisons way,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead testified that guards often left the prison doors open because of the facility’s rat problem.

“Staff intentionally left doors open so the many stray cats that hung around the prison could catch the rats. It is never a good idea to leave prison doors open,” Whitehead said.

The Bureau of Prisons has terminated some senior leaders in Atlanta and moved dozens more out of the facility.