Federal judges and court personnel could be at risk because of poor training, questionable contracts, and broken security equipment used by guards protecting federal courthouses, says a Justice Department inspector general’s study reported by the Washington Post. Courthouse security is handled by the U.S. Marshals Service, which hires 5,000 contract guards to protect more than 2,000 federal judges and 6,000 other court personnel at 400 facilities.
Many marshals offices failed to detect mock explosive devices sent to them last year in a test of security procedures, the report said. Three federal district court chief judges expressed serious concerns with security procedures, especially with how guards screen visitors and large vehicles entering courthouses. Names and locations were not published for security reasons. Courthouse security is divided into 12 districts; a review of six districts found that security officials and judges do not meet regularly to review security procedures. Officers in three districts failed to conduct quarterly testing of contract guards to review how they screen visitors, packages, and mail. Federal court personnel were the target of 1,278 threats in fiscal 2008, more than double the threats received in 2003. The new report raises concerns about the marshals’ management of contracts with private security firms, noting that the agency awarded a $300 million contract to a company with a history of fraud that later filed for bankruptcy, leaving many private guards without pay or benefits.