Senate to hold hearing on crisis-plagued federal prisons
WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Friday he plans to hold an oversight hearing on the crisis-plagued federal Bureau of Prisons after The Associated Press reported that the agency is keeping its embattled ex-director on the payroll as an adviser to his successor.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who demanded Michael Carvajal be fired last November amid myriad failings, told the AP in a statement he was dismayed by continuing misconduct within the agency and by its unwillingness to completely cut ties with the former director.
Carvajal submitted his resignation in January but remained in charge of the Bureau of Prisons until the new director, Colette Peters, was sworn in Tuesday following a lengthy search process.
On Thursday, the AP reported that Carvajal is staying on through the end of the month as a senior adviser to Peters, the former director of Oregon’s state prison system.
After speaking with Peters this week, Durbin said he’s “hopeful for serious reforms at BOP,” but it is time to move on from Carvajal’s failed leadership.
“It’s no secret that the Bureau of Prisons has been plagued by misconduct,” Durbin said, noting his calls for Carvajal’s ouster last fall. “It’s time to leave the scandals and mismanagement of the Carvajal era in the past and focus on fixing this broken institution.”
“That’s why, in addition to my commitment to working with new BOP leadership, I plan to hold a BOP oversight hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee when we return from the August state work period,” Durbin said.
Durbin didn’t provide a date for the hearing or say what witnesses might be called or topics discussed. The Senate returns from its August recess after Labor Day.
Peters has pledged to overhaul the federal agency, which was plagued by myriad problems during Carvajal’s two years in charge. She has pledged greater transparency and accountability for the Bureau of Prisons, the Justice Department’s largest component with a budget of more than $8 billion.
Carvajal, a Trump administration holdover, submitted his resignation on Jan. 5 amid increasing scrutiny over his leadership in the wake of AP reporting that uncovered widespread problems at the Bureau of Prisons, including rampant sexual assault at a California women’s prison, widespread staff criminal conduct, dozens of escapes, deaths and staffing woes hampering responses to emergencies.
Durbin demanded Carvajal’s firing last November 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. Durbin doubled down on his call for Carvajal’s removal in a speech on the Senate floor last December.
“Since day one, Director Carvajal has shown no intention of reforming the institution,” Durbin said. “For years, the Bureau of Prisons has been plagued by corruption, chronic understaffing, and misconduct by high-ranking officials.”
By then, Carvajal was already on the hot seat. Biden administration officials had discussions in the spring of 2021 about whether to remove Carvajal, after the AP reported that widespread correctional officer vacancies were forcing prisons to expand the use of cooks, teachers, nurses and other workers to guard inmates.
In one of his final acts as director, Carvajal clashed with senators at a hearing last week as he refused to accept responsibility for a culture of corruption and misconduct that has plagued his agency for years.
Carvajal, testifying before the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, insisted he had been shielded from problems by his underlings. But he had been copied on emails, and some of the troubles were detailed in reports generated by the agency’s headquarters.
Carvajal blamed the size and structure of the Bureau of Prisons for his ignorance on issues such as inmate suicides, sexual abuse, and the free flow of drugs, weapons and other contraband.