- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Sen. Richard J. Durbin is calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland to dismiss Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal amid a report of rampant corruption and misconduct in the bureau.

The Illinois Democrat’s demand on Tuesday came in response to an Associated Press investigation that found the bureau is a “hotbed of abuse, graft and corruption, and has turned a blind eye to employees accused of misconduct.”

Mr. Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Mr. Garland in a statement that it is “past time” to replace Mr. Carvajal, who was appointed during the Trump administration in February 2020.

“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,” Mr. Durbin said.

The First Step Act, signed into law in 2018 by then-President Trump, requires changes in the federal prison system, including overhauls to policies governing use of force and restraints, sentencing computation, and work programs for inmates.

The senator added that Mr. Carvajal should be replaced “with a reform-minded director who is not a product of the BOP bureaucracy.”

More than 100 federal prison employees have been arrested, convicted or sentenced for crimes — including murder and sexual abuse — since 2019, according to the AP report.

The warden of a federal prison in California was indicted in September for sexually abusing an inmate, and an associate warden in New York City was charged in August for murdering her husband. Guards have been accused of taking cash from inmates to smuggle weapons and drugs into the prisons. 

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Although federal prison workers make up less than one-third of the Justice Department workforce, the report found they are involved in two-thirds of criminal cases filed against department personnel in recent years. And in some instances, the bureau reportedly failed to suspend workers who were arrested in connection with the crimes.

Shortly after Mr. Durbin released his statement, the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General published a report finding the prisons bureau has not conducted required policy negotiations with its national union over the last 20 months.

“The BOP’s decision to not conduct formal in-person negotiations with the national union has delayed the Department of Justice’s … ability to move forward with [First Step Act]-related policies, as well as policy changes to address OIG recommendations on systemic correctional and safety issues,” Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said in a memo.

According to the IG report, the bureau decided in March to request virtual negotiation meetings with the union, instead of in-person, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The union, however, insisted on in-person meetings because they are included in BOP-union contracts and its members have been working in-person throughout the pandemic. 

Bureau officials told investigators that the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 requires the BOP to negotiate policy changes with the union. 

The lack of negotiations could be grounds for the union to file an unfair labor practice charge with the U.S. Federal Labor Relations Authority.

A BOP spokesperson on Tuesday declined to comment on Mr. Durbin‘s comments, but said the bureau will begin meeting again with the national union this month.

“In response to this memorandum, the BOP reported it will be commencing Joint Policy Committee (JPC) meetings with the national union in November 2021 to discuss policies and has notified the national union of its intent to resume formal negotiations in December 2021,” the spokesperson said in an email.

• Emily Zantow can be reached at ezantow@washingtontimes.com.

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