WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded Tuesday that Attorney General Merrick Garland immediately fire the director of the beleaguered federal Bureau of Prisons after an Associated Press investigation detailing serious misconduct involving correctional officers.
Sen. Dick Durbin's demand came two days after the AP revealed that more than 100 Bureau of Prisons workers have been arrested, convicted or sentenced for crimes since the start of 2019. The AP investigation also found the agency has turned a blind eye to employees accused of misconduct and has failed to suspend officers who themselves had been arrested for crimes.
Durbin took particular aim at Director Michael Carvajal, who has been at the center of the agency’s myriad crises. Under Carvajal's leadership, the agency has experienced a multitude of crises from the rampant spread of coronavirus inside prisons and a failed response to the pandemic to dozens of escapes, deaths and critically low staffing levels that have hampered responses to emergencies.
Carvajal was appointed by then-Attorney General William Barr but Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said recently that she still had confidence in him despite the many serious issues during his tenure. The AP reported in June that senior officials in the Biden administration had been weighing whether to oust him. He is one of the few remaining holdovers from the Trump administration.
“Director Carvajal was handpicked by former Attorney General Bill Barr and has overseen a series of mounting crises, including failing to protect BOP staff and inmates from the COVID-19 pandemic, failing to address chronic understaffing, failing to implement the landmark First Step Act, and more,” Durbin said in a statement. “It is past time for Attorney General Garland to replace Director Carvajal with a reform-minded Director who is not a product of the BOP bureaucracy.”
Two-thirds of the criminal cases against Justice Department personnel in recent years have involved federal prison workers, who account for less than one-third of the department’s workforce. Of the 41 arrests this year, 28 were of BOP employees or contractors. The FBI had just five. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives each had two.
The AP investigation also detailed how the Bureau of Prisons allowed an official at a federal prison in Mississippi, whose job it was to investigate misconduct of other staff members, to remain in his position after he was arrested on charges of stalking and harassing fellow employees. That official was also allowed to continue investigating a staff member who had accused him of a crime.
And in the last week, two inmates have escaped from the custody of the Bureau of Prisons, marking at least 36 escapes within the last 22 months.
“We have a new Administration and a new opportunity to reform our criminal justice system," Durbin said. "It’s clear that there is much going wrong in our federal prisons, and we urgently need to fix it. That effort must start with new leadership.”
Separately on Tuesday, the Justice Department’s inspector general found that the Bureau of Prisons had stalled the development of more than 30 agency policies because agency officials have been refusing to meet with the union representing prison workers for in-person policy negotiations, as required under a contract.
About half of the policies that have stalled for the last 20 months were created or revised in response to the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice overhaul signed during the Trump administration and aimed at encouraging inmates to participate in programs aimed at reducing recidivism — which could let them out of prison earlier — easing mandatory minimum sentences and giving judges more discretion in sentencing.
The inspector general found that the Bureau of Prisons has not given credit to any of the about 60,000 federal inmates who have completed those programs because the agency hasn’t finalized its procedures or completed the policy negotiations with the union. The watchdog also found that the failure to negotiate has delayed the implementation of 27 recommendations from the inspector general’s office.