- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2022

More than 300 federal inmates who were transferred to home confinement as a pandemic mitigation strategy reoffended and were sent back to prison, a top federal official said Thursday.

Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security that substance abuse was the “most common” offense that landed inmates back behind bars.

“About 160 of those 320 were for abuse of alcohol or drugs,” Mr. Carvajal said. “Some of them were escapes – they weren’t where they were supposed to be – most of them were violations of that nature. Some was misconduct, eight of those were new crimes committed, the rest of those were technical violations.”

A bureau spokesperson told The Washington Times that six of the eight new crimes were drug-related, one was for escape with prosecution and one was for smuggling non-citizens.

The news comes as all 120 of the bureau’s prisons have been on lockdown since Monday after two inmates were killed during a gang altercation at a federal prison in Texas. 

And less than a month ago, Mr. Carvajal bowed to calls for him to resign over the bureau‘s handling of the pandemic and violence within prisons. In recent months he has faced public scrutiny over a lack of virus-mitigation efforts, overcrowded prisons and staff shortages. He was appointed during the Trump administration in 2020 and is staying in the position until a replacement is found. 

During Thursday’s hearing, he said the 320 reoffending inmates are among more than 37,000 who were transferred to home confinement since Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) in March 2020 to address threats posed by the pandemic.

The CARES Act allows the bureau to transfer certain low-level inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes to home confinement if they meet the COVID-19 risk factors identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While some transfers have been put back in prison, others have completed their sentences and 5,485 inmates are still in home confinement.

As of Thursday, Mr. Carvajal said 60% of the bureau’s nearly 153,000 inmates and 80% of the nearly 36,000 staff members are vaccinated.

Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat, also brought up prison supervision concerns after actor Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide in 2019 at a federal jail in Manhattan while awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking charges.

He said “security was awful” when Epstein was incarcerated at a now-closed federal prison in New York and he wanted to know whether it is better at the federal prison in Brooklyn where his accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell is being held. She is awaiting sentencing after recently being convicted of conspiring to recruit and groom teenage girls to be abused by him.

Mr. Carvajal said he cannot comment on specific security issues related to individuals but that “we appropriately ensure that people in our care have the appropriate supervision and security.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat and the panel chair, also brought up Epstein earlier in the hearing during her opening statement.

She said that Epstein’s death “was linked in part to the hours of overtime that officers guarding him were required to work and augmentation which required an employee who was not a corrections officer to guard him.”

Rep. Cori Bush, Missouri Democrat and vice chair of the committee, also asked Mr. Carvajal about emails she received detailing “horrifying accounts” from 17 women in five federal prisons.

She said some allegations included: “not being allowed to get out of their beds all day because of COVID lockdowns, being forced to eat expired food, having little to no access to medical services to treat cancers and other underlying conditions, having to pay $2 to file a state complaint.”

“These are complaints coming from not one or not two facilities, but five different facilities, which makes clear that these issues are not isolated – but they’re systemic,” Ms. Bush said.

Mr. Carvajal said he was not aware of those particular complaints but his staff would look into them.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

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

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