Workers in federal prisons commit certain crimes

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WASHINGTON — More than 100 federal prison employees have been arrested, convicted, or convicted since the start of 2019, including a guard accused of sexual misconduct, a guard accused of murder, guards receiving cash for drug and weapons trafficking, and inspectors who shoplifted. property 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 misconduct, corruption and corruption, and turns a blind eye to employees accused of misconduct. In some cases, the agency was unable to dismiss officers who had been arrested for crimes.

Two-thirds of criminal cases against Justice Department personnel in recent years involve federal prison workers, who make up less than a third of the department’s workforce. Of the 41 arrests this year, 28 were 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 figures highlight how the criminal behavior of workers in a federal prison system designed to punish and rehabilitate people who commit bad acts is festering. The revelations come as advocates force the Biden administration to get serious about fixing the bureau.

In one case uncovered by the AP, the agency allowed an official at a federal prison in Mississippi, whose job it was to investigate the abuse of other personnel, to stay on after he was arrested on charges of stalking and harassing other employees. This official was also allowed to continue investigating a staff member who accused him of a crime.

In a statement to the AP, the Ministry of Justice said it “will not tolerate abuse of personnel, particularly criminal misconduct.” The department said it “commits to hold accountable any employee who abuses a position of trust that we demonstrate through federal criminal prosecutions and other means.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland said his deputy, Lisa Monaco, meets regularly with Bureau of Prisons officials to address issues plaguing the agency.

Federal prison employees in almost every job function have been charged with crimes. These include a teacher who admitted in January that an inmate was guilty of cheating on his high school equivalency, and a pastor who admitted to receiving at least $12,000 in bribes to smuggle Suboxone, which is used to treat marijuana, tobacco and cell phones, as well as opioid addiction. leaving items in a prison chapel locker for inmates to retrieve.

At the highest echelons, the warden of a federal women’s prison in Dublin, California, was arrested in September and charged with multiple abusing an inmate this month, demanding to undress in front of him at scheduled times, and amassing a whole lot of stuff. Nude photos of her on her government-issued phone.

Warden Ray Garcia, who was put on administrative leave after the FBI raided his office in July, allegedly said there was no point in reporting the sexual assault on the woman because she was “close friends” with the person investigating the allegation. the prisoner cannot “destroy it”. Garcia pleaded not guilty.

Garcia’s arrest came three months after a recycling technician at FCI Dublin was arrested on charges of forcing two inmates into sexual activity. Several other workers at the facility where actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin spent time getting involved in the college admissions bribery scandal are under investigation.

Monaco said it took “these issues overall very seriously” following Garcia’s arrest, and for months after senior management officials debated whether to fire him, he insisted he had confidence in office manager Michael Carvajal.

In August, the assistant guard at the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York City was charged with murdering her husband, a federal prison employee, after police said they shot him in the face at their New Jersey home. He pleaded not guilty.

One-fifth of BOP cases tracked by the AP involved crimes of a sexual nature, second only to cases involving smuggled contraband. Any sexual activity between a prison worker and an inmate is illegal. In the most gruesome cases, inmates say they were challenged by fear, intimidation and threats of violence.

A correctional officer and drug treatment specialist at the Lexington, Kentucky, prison medical center was charged in July with threatening to kill inmates or their families if they did not admit to sexual abuse. In Victorville, California, an inmate said he “feels frozen with fear and powerless” when a guard threatened to send him “into the hole” unless he had sexual intercourse with him. He pleaded guilty in 2019.

Lying on paperwork has also been a problem after theft, fraud, and inmate deaths.

Earlier this month, three employees and eight former inmates at the notorious New York City federal prison, where financier Jeffrey Epstein killed himself, were charged with what prosecutors allege was an extensive bribery and smuggling scheme. The Ministry of Justice closed the prison in October, citing the deplorable conditions of the prisoners. Last year, a gun entered the building.

One of the accused employees, a unit secretary, was also charged with misrepresenting gang member Anthony “Harv” Ellison as a “model prisoner” to get less punishment.

The Bureau of Prisons, which houses more than 150,000 federal inmates and employs about 37,500 people, has staggered from crisis to crisis over the past few years, from the rapid spread of the coronavirus in prisons and the failed response to the pandemic to dozens of escapees. fatalities and critically low staffing levels hampering emergency response.

In conversations with the AP, more than a dozen clerical workers also expressed concerns that the agency’s disciplinary system had led to an excessive focus on alleged misconduct by ordinary employees, and said there were allegations of misconduct against top managers and guards. more easily pushed aside.

“The main concern with the Bureau of Prisons is that the guards at each institution decide whether there will be any disciplinary proceedings,” said Susan Canales, vice-president of the union at FCI Dublin. “Basically, you’re holding the fox in charge of the coop.”

At the federal prison in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the official tasked with investigating staff abuse has been the subject of numerous complaints and numerous arrests. The Bureau did not fire or suspend him—a deviation from standard Justice Department practice.

According to a police report received by the AP, in one instance, a prison employee reported that the official assaulted him in a housing unit. Internal documents detail allegations that the official grabbed the officer’s arm and blocked his way, locking him in a prisoner’s cell.

The same official was arrested in another instance, when a different employee contacted the local sheriff’s office accusing him of stalking and harassing him. The AP does not reveal the identity of the official because some charges were later dropped.

In both cases, victims said they reported the incidents to Shannon Withers, the director of the prison complex, and to the Justice Department’s inspector general. However, they say the Prisons Bureau did not take any action and allowed the officer to remain in his post despite ongoing accusations and serious allegations of misconduct.

A bureau spokesperson, Kristie Breshears, declined to discuss the case or discuss why the official was never suspended.

Breshears said the agency is “committed to ensuring the safety and security of all inmates in our population, our employees and the general public” and that allegations of misconduct are “extensively investigated for potential administrative discipline or criminal prosecution.”

The bureau said it requires background checks and carefully screens and evaluates potential employees to make sure they adhere to its core values. The agency said it requires its employees “to behave in a way that promotes respect for the BOP, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Government.”