The new head of the scandal-plagued federal Bureau of Prisons says she believes in good government and transparency.
Colette Peters told The Associated Press s he will work to “create an environment where people can feel comfortable coming forward and talking about misconduct.”
Peters replaced Michael Carvajal as the director of the federal Bureau of Prisons. She was director of Oregon’s state prison system before Attorney General Merrick Garland swore her in on Aug. 2, 2022.
The AP reported that t he change was part of the Biden administration’s attempt to repair the federal Bureau of Prisons after the discovery of corruption, misconduct and abuse within the agency. Investigations conducted by the AP led to Carvajal’s resignation in January, after a Senate subcommittee opened an inquiry regarding the actions within the Bureau of Prisons 122 facilities.
Whistleblowers informed the AP of deteriorating facilities that were mold-ridden and had poor sewage, which left a foot of human waste on yards at a federal prison in Atlanta. Prison employee whistleblowers also reported about facilities where “so many rats were in the food service area, employees would leave the prison’s doors open so stray cats could take care of them.”
Carvajal’s administration retaliated against the whistleblowers and transferred them or forced them to resign, the story said.
During the Senate subcommittee investigation, Carvajal refused to take accountability for the Bureau of Prison’s “culture of corruption and misconduct” that was pervasive throughout his department for years.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., a ranking member of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said that Carvajal’s leadership was “almost willful ignorance.” Johnson described Carvajal’s thinking as “don’t want to know what’s happening below me. Don’t want to hear about rapes. Don’t want to hear about suicides.”
Carvajal denied wrongdoing and insisted that he had been kept away from internal problems by his staff. This excuse coincided with his admission that the size and structure of the Bureau of Prisons led to the multitude of infractions.
Carvajal’s lack of accountability upset senators at a bi-partisan level. The mounting pressure from Capitol Hill forced Carvajal to submit his resignation in January of this year.
A six-month search for his replacement led to Peters’ appointment. She is the second director in the federal Bureau of Prisons to have no prior experience with federal prisons.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco led the search and complied with the Biden administration’s strategy to overhaul leadership at the top of the organization. The AP reported that Monaco’s search focused on reform for the agency, attempting to rid itself of ethical issues it has dealt with for decades.
During Peters’ inauguration, she said she was “humbled, honored and proud to serve,” as leader of the Bureau of Prisons.
The Bureau of Prisons employs more than 30,000 people and has an $8 billion budget. Peters takes over an organization that is plagued by documented sexual abuse from its correctional officers as well as other widespread criminal activity by staff. Results of the investigation revealed a troubled institution that has had dozens of escapes, deaths and dangerously low staffing levels that slowed down emergency responses.
Attorney General Garland said he had “full confidence” in Peters’ ability to improve the Bureau of Prisons.