US prison chief Michael Carvajal resigns amid investigation into troubled system

Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) director Michael Carvajal announced his resignation after months of calls for the bureau to resign because of its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, prison violence and internal issues with correctional officers.

The US Justice Department said Carvajal tendered his resignation to Attorney General Merrick Garland, but he would remain in office until a replacement was chosen.

Amid several controversies that called for the removal of Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a November report from the Associated Press found that more than 100 BOP employees were arrested since 2019, Convicted or sentenced for offences.

The AP also found that the BOP ignored allegations of misconduct against federal prison corrections officers.

Another issue in Carvajal’s leadership period, which began in February 2020, was the increase in COVID-19 cases inside prisons. As of Wednesday, there were more than 3,000 cases among prisoners and prison staff, up from just over 500 in the middle of last month. About 266 federal prisoners have died from the virus.

Additional controversies surrounding his time as BOP director include an increase in deaths in prison fights, a delay in emergency response due to nearly 30 exodus and low staffing.

“His resignation is an opportunity for a new, reformist leadership in the Bureau of Prisons,” Durbin said in a statement.

Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal has resigned from his position, but will remain in the role until a replacement is chosen. Above, Carvajal testifies at a Judiciary Committee hearing investigating issues facing prisons and prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic at the Capitol on June 2, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Tom Williams / Pool / Getty Images

The administration faced further pressure to remove Carvajal and fix the federal prison system after President Joe Biden’s campaign promises to advance criminal justice reforms. The Bureau of Prisons is the largest agency in the Department of Justice, with a budget for approximately 37,500 employees and more than 150,000 federal prisoners. Carvajal presided over an extraordinary time of increased federal executions and a system-devastating pandemic.

“We greatly appreciate the service of Department Director Carvajal over the past three decades,” Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement. “His operational experience and intimate knowledge of the Bureau of Prisons – the largest component of the department – helped drive it through a critical time during this historic pandemic.”

After the AP story was published in November, Durbin demanded the firing of Carvajal. Several Congress committees were also investigating Carvajal and the Bureau of Prisons, questioning employees about allegations of misconduct.

In his statement, Durbin said Carvajal “has failed to address the growing crises in our nation’s federal prison system, including failing to fully implement the landmark First Step Act,” passed during the Trump administration. A bipartisan criminal justice measure meant for prison reform. Reducing disparities in programs and punishment.

Carvajal, 54, was appointed director in February 2020 by then-Attorney General William Barr, before the COVID-19 pandemic spread to federal prisons across the country, infecting thousands of inmates with the virus and resulting in 266 deaths.

All four BOP facilities are currently operating with heavy modifications due to the pandemic, with many suspended tours.

Carvajal also oversaw an unprecedented round of federal executions in the waning months of the Trump presidency that were so poorly managed that they became a virus superspreader event.

Biden administration officials were discussing Carvajal’s removal in the spring, after the AP reported that wide corrections officer vacancies forced prisons to expand the use of cooks, teachers, nurses and other workers to protect inmates. Was.

The agency’s staffing level reached a critical point under Carvajal, and officials at several facilities protested and were fired. But deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco recently said she still trusts him.

A former army soldier, Carvajal worked his way up to the rank of the Prison Bureau. He began as a corrections officer at Texas Federal Prisons in 1992 and Federal Prisons in Pollock, Louisiana, before being promoted to regional director in 2016, assistant director in 2018 and director in 2020 He was the warden of the premises.

Carvajal’s departure was celebrated by some of his own employees, who say the federal prison system had deteriorated under his supervision.

“The disastrous actions by Carvajal have crippled this agency to the point of uncertainty, like a tornado leaving destruction behind,” said Jose Rojas, a leader of the Federal Correctional Officers Association. “That was a disgrace to our agency. Good riddance.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.