Federal prison workers commit some of the crimes

Michael Balsamo and Michael R. Sisak

Washington – More than 100 federal prison workers have been arrested, convicted or sentenced for crimes since the start of 2019, including a director charged with sexual abuse, a deputy director charged with murder, guards taking money for smuggling drugs and weapons and supervisors for theft of goods such as tires and tractors.

An Associated Press investigation found that the Federal Bureau of Prisons, with an annual budget of nearly $ 8 billion, is a hotbed of abuse, bribery and bribery, and has turned a blind eye to accused employees misconduct. In some cases, the agency failed to suspend officers who had themselves been arrested for crimes.

Two-thirds of criminal cases against Justice Department staff in recent years have involved federal prison employees, who make up less than a third of the department’s workforce. Of the 41 arrests this year, 28 involved BOP employees or contractors. The FBI only had five. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives each had two.

The numbers show how employee criminal behavior escalates inside a federal prison system designed to punish and rehabilitate those who have committed wrongdoing. The revelations come as advocates push the Biden administration to take the office repair seriously.

In a case uncovered by the AP, the agency allowed an official at a Mississippi federal prison, whose job it was to investigate wrongdoing by other staff, to remain in post after being arrested. for harassment and harassment of colleagues. This official was also authorized to continue the investigation of a staff member who had accused him of a crime.

In a statement to the AP, the Justice Department said it “will not tolerate staff misconduct, especially criminal misconduct.” prosecution and other means.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said his deputy Lisa Monaco met regularly with officials from the Bureau of Prisons to resolve issues plaguing the agency.

Federal prison employees in almost all professional functions have been charged with crimes. These employees include a teacher who pleaded guilty in January to rigging an inmate’s high school equivalency and a chaplain who admitted receiving at least $ 12,000 in bribes to smuggle Suboxone, which is used to treat opioid addiction, as well as marijuana, tobacco and cell phones, and leave items in a cabinet in the prison chapel for inmates to retrieve.

At the highest rank, the warden of a federal prison for women in Dublin, Calif., Was arrested in September and charged this month with assaulting an inmate repeatedly, at scheduled times when he asked her to undress in front of him and amassed a slew of nude photos of her on her government-issued phone.

Director Ray Garcia, who was put on administrative leave after the FBI raided his office in July, reportedly told the woman there was no point in reporting the sexual assault because he was “a close friend” with who would investigate the allegation and the detainee would not be able to “ruin him”. Garcia has pleaded not guilty.

Garcia’s arrest came three months after an FCI Dublin retraining technician was arrested for coercing two inmates into sexual activity. Several other staff at the facility, where actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin spent time for their involvement in the college admissions corruption scandal, are under investigation.

After Garcia’s arrest, Monaco said it was “looking very seriously at these issues in all areas” and insisted it had confidence in office manager Michael Carvajal months after senior administration officials have considered ousting him.

In August, the deputy director of New York’s Metropolitan Detention Center was charged with the murder of her husband – a fellow federal prison worker – after police said they shot him in the face in their New Jersey home. . She pleaded not guilty.

A fifth of the BOP cases tracked by the AP involved crimes of a sexual nature, just after the contraband smuggling cases. Any sexual activity between a prison worker and an inmate is illegal. In the most egregious cases, detainees say they have been forced by fear, intimidation and threats of violence.

A correctional officer and drug treatment specialist at a prison medical center in Lexington, Ky., Were charged in July with threatening to kill inmates or their families if they did not accept the sexual abuse. An inmate in Victorville, Calif., Said she “felt frozen and helpless with fear” when a guard threatened to send her to the “hole” unless she performed a sexual act on him. He pleaded guilty in 2019.

Theft, fraud and lying on papers after the death of detainees have also been problems.

Earlier this month, three employees and eight former inmates of the infamous New York federal prison where financier Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide were indicted in what prosecutors called a massive program of bribery and smuggling. The Justice Department closed the prison in October, citing the deplorable conditions of the detainees. Last year a gun entered the building.

One of the indicted employees, a unit secretary, was also charged with deforming gang member Anthony “Harv” Ellison as a “model inmate” to get him a lesser sentence.

The Bureau of Prisons, which houses more than 150,000 federal inmates and employs around 37,500 people, has gone from crisis to crisis in recent years, the rampant spread of the coronavirus inside prisons and an unsuccessful response to the pandemic to dozens of escapes, deaths and extremely low personnel levels that hampered emergency responses.

In interviews with the PA, more than a dozen office staff also raised concerns that the agency’s disciplinary system has led to an inordinate focus on allegations of misconduct. rank and file employees and said allegations of misconduct were made against senior managers and directors. are more easily discarded.

“The main concern of the Prisons Office is that the guards at each institution decide whether or not there will be a disciplinary investigation,” said Susan Canales, union vice-president at FCI Dublin. “Basically, you put the fox in charge of the henhouse.”

At the federal prison in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the official responsible for investigating staff misconduct has been the subject of numerous complaints and multiple arrests. The office did not remove him or suspend him – a departure from the standard practice of the Department of Justice.

In one case, a prison employee reported that the official assaulted him inside a housing unit, according to a police report obtained by the PA. Internal documents detail allegations that the official grabbed the officer’s arm and trapped him in an inmate’s cell, blocking his path.

The same official was arrested in another case when another employee contacted the local sheriff’s office, accusing him of stalking and harassing her. The AP does not identify the official by name as some of the criminal charges were subsequently dropped.

In both cases, victims said they reported the incidents to the director of the prison complex, Shannon Withers, and the inspector general of the Department of Justice. But they say the Bureau of Prisons took no action, allowing the official to remain in his post despite pending criminal charges and allegations of serious misconduct.

Office spokeswoman Kristie Breshears declined to discuss the case or explain why the official was never suspended.

Breshears said the agency is “committed to ensuring the safety of all detainees of our population, staff and the public” and that the misconduct allegations make “a full investigation for possible administrative discipline or of criminal proceedings ”.

The office said it requires background checks and carefully selects and assesses potential employees to ensure they meet its core values. The agency said it requires its employees to “conduct themselves in a manner that promotes respect for the BOP, the Department of Justice and the US government.”

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Sisak reported from New York.


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