WASHINGTON , -- Since the beginning of 2019, more than 100 federal prison workers were arrested, convicted, or sentenced to jail for crimes. These included a warden for sexual abuse and an associate with murder. Also, guards took cash to smuggle drugs, weapons, and property thefts by supervisors like tires.
A Associated Press investigation revealed that the federal Bureau of Prisons has a budget of almost $8 billion annually and is a hotbed of corruption, graft, and abuse. It has also turned a blindeye to employees who are accused of misconduct. Sometimes, officers who were themselves arrested for crime have not been suspended by the agency.
In recent years, federal prison workers have been involved in two-thirds the criminal cases against Justice Department personnel. This year's 41 arrests included 28 BOP workers or contractors. Five were made by the FBI. Each of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had two.
These numbers show how criminal behavior of federal employees can fester in a federal prison system that is meant to punish and rehab people who have committed wrong acts. Advocates are pushing the Biden administration to fix the bureau.
AP discovered that an official in a Mississippi federal prison, whose job was to investigate misconduct by other staff members, was allowed to continue in his position after he had been arrested for stalking and harassing coworkers. The official was also permitted to continue his investigation of a staff member who had been accused of a crime.
According to the Justice Department, it stated that it will not tolerate misconduct by staff, especially criminal misconduct.
Attorney General Merrick Garland stated that Lisa Monaco, his deputy, meets regularly with Bureau of Prisons officials in order to resolve issues plaguing the agency.
Almost all federal prison employees have been accused of crimes. One of those employees was a teacher who pleaded guilty to misleading an inmate's high-school equivalency. Another was a Chaplain who admitted to taking at least $12,000 in bribes in order to smuggle Suboxone. The drug is used to treat opioid addiction.
, the warden at a federal women’s prison in Dublin in California, was indicted on September. He is accused of multiple molestation of an inmate, scheduling times when he demands she undress before him, and amassing a series of nude photos of her using his government-issued cellphone.
Warden Ray Garcia was placed on administrative leave following a raid of his office by the FBI in July. Garcia allegedly said to the woman that it was not worth reporting the allegation because he was close friends with the person who would investigate it and that the inmate would not be able "ruin" him. Garcia has pleaded guilty.
Garcia was taken into custody three months after FCI Dublin's recycling technician was charged with coercing two inmates to sexual activity. The investigation continues into the arrest of several other workers at FCI Dublin, where Felicity Huffman (actor) and Lori Loughlin (actor) were held on charges that they conspired to coerce two inmates into sexual activity.
After Garcia's arrest, Monaco stated that she was "taking an extremely serious look at these matters across the board". She also said she believed in Michael Carvajal as the bureau's director. This comes months after high-ranking officials had considered whether to fire him.
After police claimed she had shot her husband in the face at their New Jersey home, an associate warden at Metropolitan Detention Center in New York City was arrested and charged with murdering him. She has pleaded guilty.
In July, a Lexington, Kentucky prison medical center correctional officer was charged with threat to kill inmates and their families . In Victorville, California, a prisoner claimed that she felt "frozen and powerless with fear" after a guard threatened to send them to the "hole" if she didn't perform sex acts on him. He pleaded guilty to the charges in 2019.
Fraud, theft and lying on paperwork following death of inmates have all been problems.
Three employees and eight ex-inmates of the New York City federal prison where Jeffrey Epstein was murdered were indicted earlier this month. The indictment stemmed from an extensive bribery scheme and contraband smuggling program . In October, the Justice Department closed down the jail due to poor conditions inmates. A gun was found in the jail last year.
A unit secretary was also charged with misrepresenting Anthony Ellison, a gang member, as a model inmate to get him a lower sentence.
The Bureau of Prisons houses over 150,000 federal inmates. It has been in constant crisis for the past few years. From the rapid spread of coronavirus in prisons and a ineffective response to the pandemic, to many escapes and deaths, and extremely low staffing levels which have hindered responses to emergencies.
Interviews with the AP revealed that more than a dozen staff from the bureau raised concerns about the agency's disciplinary process. They claim that the focus is too much on alleged misconduct of rank-and-file employees, and that allegations of misconduct against wardens and senior executives are easier to ignore.
Susan Canales, vice-president of FCI Dublin, stated that the Bureau of Prisons' main concern is that the wardens of each institution decide whether there will be a disciplinary investigation. "Essentially, you are putting the fox in control of the henhouse."
Multiple arrests and complaints have been made against the official in charge of investigating misconduct at the federal prison in Yazoo City. He has not been removed from his position or suspended by the bureau, which is a departure from Justice Department practice.
According to a police report obtained from the AP, a prison worker claimed that the official attacked him in a housing unit. According to internal documents, the official allegedly grabbed the officer's arm while he was in a cell with an inmate and obstructed his path.
In another case, the same official was taken into custody after another employee complained to the sheriff's office about him harassing and stalking her. Because some criminal charges were dropped later, the AP does not identify the official.
Both victims reported the incidents to Shannon Withers (the prison complex warden) and the Justice Department's inspector-general. They claim that the Bureau of Prisons did not take any action and allowed the official to continue in his job despite the pending criminal charges.
Kristie Breshears (bureau spokesperson) declined to comment on the case or explain why the official was not suspended.
Breshears stated that the agency is committed to "ensuring the safety and security for all inmates in our population as well as our staff and the public"; and that misconduct allegations are "thoroughly investigated for possible administrative discipline or criminal prosecution."
According to the bureau, background checks are required and prospective employees must be carefully screened and evaluated in order to meet its core values. According to the agency, employees must "conduct themselves in a way that fosters respect for U.S. Government, Department of Justice and BOP."