Federal inmates were hired to make combat helmets for the US military, but it did not go well

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Federal-prison inmates in Beaumont, Texas, manufactured more than 100,000 defective helmets for the US military, even hiding some from inspection and sending others directly to the battlefield, according to a federal report by the US Department of Justice that was released on Wednesday.

The report, a joint effort by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), found multiple instances of fraud in the manufacturing and sale of Advanced Combat Helmets (ACH) produced through the program between 2006 and 2009.

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The helmets had a slew of defects, "including serious ballistic failures...blisters and improper mounting-hole placement and dimensions, as well as helmets being repressed," according to the report.

The helmets were also found to have been made using "degraded or unauthorized ballistic materials, expired paint, and unauthorized manufacturing methods."

More than 126,000 ACHs were recalled by the end of the program, costing the government more than $19 million.

The inmates were hired by ArmorSource, a private corporation that was the official manufacturer of the ACH, and Federal Prison Industries (FPI), a government-backed organization established to educate inmates and help them find work.

FPI, one of the organizations responsible for overseeing production, also "pre-selected" helmets for screening, even though the US Department of Defense (DOD) guidelines specifically required helmets to be selected at random.

FPI staff were also found to have directed inmates to forge documents that would falsely indicate that helmets had passed their inspection, according to the report.

The report also discovered that ArmorSource, which partnered with FPI to produce and sell the helmets, conducted inadequate oversight of ACH manufacturing by the inmates.

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The ACH is designed to provide "ballistic and impact protection for the head, including increased 9mm protection," but the report found that faulty manufacturing processes could prove fatal, "resulting in serious injury or death."

Damages were not limited to the manufacturing and inspection process alone, though.

In several instances, the report found cases where finished helmet shells were "pried apart" so that spaces could be filled with Kevlar dust, after which the shells were repressed to get rid of "blisters and bubbles" that violated specifications and guidelines.

Also, despite claims that ACH manufacturing lots were properly inspected, the report found that lots were inspected over a fax machine in at least one instance.
As a result of these discoveries, the FPI facility in Beaumont was shut down and its staff transferred to other jobs within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The FPI and ArmorSource also paid $3 million to the government to avoid criminal prosecution under the False Claims Act.

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