Top Senate Democrat calls on attorney general to fire prisons chief

Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats make final plea for voting rights ahead of filibuster showdown Democrats, poised for filibuster defeat, pick at old wounds  Schumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema MORE (D-Ill.) on Tuesday called on Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandMellman: Voting rights or the filibuster?  A new Bureau of Prisons director gives administration a chance to live up to promises  Lawmakers coming under increased threats — sometimes from one another MORE to replace Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Michael Carvajal after an investigation by The Associated Press found “abuse, graft and corruption” in the agency.

The AP’s investigation, published Sunday, found that more than 100 BOP workers have been arrested, convicted or sentenced since the beginning of 2019 for a host of crimes including sexual abuse, murder, stealing property and smuggling drugs and weapons.

The AP further alleged that the BOP was rife with corruption and abuse. The agency repeatedly neglected to act when employees were accused of misconduct, the investigation found, and failed more than once to suspend officers after they were arrested.

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Durbin, in a statement given two days after the AP published its damning investigation, said it is “past time” for a new BOP director to be installed. He pointed to Carvajal’s ties to the Trump administration and his failures in leading the agency.

“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,” Durbin said.

“It is past time for Attorney General Garland to replace Director Carvajal with a reform-minded Director who is not a product of the BOP bureaucracy,” he added.

The Senate Majority Whip said now that the Biden administration is in office there is “a new opportunity to reform our criminal justice system.” 

The first step toward such reform, he said, would be replacing Carvajal.

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“It’s clear that there is much going wrong in our federal prisons, and we urgently need to fix it. That effort must start with new leadership,” Durbin added.

Durbin and Sen. Jon OssoffJon OssoffThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Schumer tees up doomed election reform vote Momentum builds to prohibit lawmakers from trading stocks On The Money — US regulators go after illegal mergers MORE (D-Ga.) penned a letter to Carvajal earlier this month requesting information regarding staffing shortages at prisons across the country.

They said they were particularly concerned with the scarcity of prison personnel, which they called “widely-reported staffing failures,” because the BOP oversees the implementation of the First Step Act, the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that former President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE signed in 2018.

“We have been troubled by reports that employees who are critical to the success of FSA reforms — including psychologists, teachers, unit managers, and medical staff — are regularly reassigned from their traditional assignments to perform correctional duties, such as monitoring showers or escorting inmates during recreational time,” the senators wrote in the letter. 

In April, the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Durbin chairs, held an oversight hearing of the BOP, at which Carvajal testified.