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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

The Death of Alexei Navalny: U.S. Hypocrisy on Steroids

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on February 18, 2024

IMAGE: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died in prison last week.

An Editorial Opinion


Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny reportedly died on Friday at a remote Arctic prison where he was held. The anti-corruption fighter and politician had long incurred the wrath of top Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, for exposing their ruthlessness and hidden fortunes. 


President Joe Biden immediately condemned Russia and Putin for Navalny's death, as do I.

While issuing his words of condemnation, Joe Biden failed to mention the 344 inmate deaths that occurred in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) from FY 2014 through FY 2021. Nearly all of these deaths were preventable. At least two of these deaths involved high-profile inmates (e.g., Jeffrey Epstein and James Joseph "Whitey" Bulger Jr.).


The day before Navalny's death was announced, Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz released a scathing report on the BOP's operational failures that contributed to the deaths of these 344 inmates in federal prisons.  Horowitz divided these deaths into four categories: suicide, homicide, accident, and those resulting from unknown factors. 


Horowitz made the following findings regarding these inmate deaths: 


  • Suicide represents a significant risk area for the BOP, which the BOP can mitigate through compliance with its existing policies.  A combination of recurring policy violations and operational failures contributed to inmate suicides, which accounted for just over half of the 344 inmate deaths we reviewed.

  • The BOP’s response to medical emergencies was often insufficient due to lack of clear communication, urgency, or proper equipment.  Significant shortcomings in BOP staff’s emergency responses were found in nearly half of the inmate deaths Horowitz reviewed. 

  • A lack of available information about inmate deaths limits the BOP’s ability to potentially prevent future inmate deaths.   The BOP was unable to produce documents required by its own policies in the event of an inmate death for many of the inmate deaths Horowitz reviewed

  • Long-standing operational challenges, such as contraband interdiction, further impair the BOP’s ability to reduce the risk of inmate deaths. Contraband drugs or weapons contributed, or appeared to contribute, to nearly one-third of the 344 inmate deaths, including 70 inmates who died from drug overdoses


Neither the DOJ, nor the BOP, offered any credible defense to these horrific federal prison conditions. What is more, these preventable inmate deaths cannot be blamed on bipartisan bickering. They occurred simply because top administrators within the DOJ or BOP did not give a damn about these 344 inmates, which occurred while Barack Obama and Donald Trump served as president..

Horowitz made 12 recommendations to stem the tide of preventable inmate deaths in federal prisons.   

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has failed miserably in every major aspect of his job, announced that the DOJ/BOP agreed with all Horowitz's recommendations.  Garland is great at giving "lip service" about DOJ's commitment to doing better, but he is woefully inadequate in his job performance. He is literally the portrait of failed leadership.

IMAGE: Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Meanwhile, it is hypocrisy on steroids for Joe Biden to condemn Navalny's death in a Russian prison while the flow of preventable inmate deaths in federal prisons continues unabated.

It is obvious that Joe Biden will not care about the treatment of federal inmates until Hunter Biden becomes one.



Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins

In Pugh v. Locke (1976), U.S. District Court Judge Frank Johnson (Montgomery, Alabama) ruled that the oppressive conditions facing Alabama's prison population violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Among the numerous abuses he found were rampant overcrowding, dilapidated facilities, brutal disciplinary methods, and inadequate protection from violence at the hands of other inmates.  


Judge Johnson responded with a detailed and far-reaching Order supervising the day-to-day operations of the state's entire prison system.  The Order imposed well-defined minimum standards of decency in inmate prison conditions.  Alabama's prisons would operate under this court Order for the next eight years.  


Other courts across the nation quickly adopted Judge Johnson’s prison management Order.  Eventually all state…

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