« Making the case, because "upper-class offenders ... might be even more reprehensible," for a severe sentence for Elizabeth Holmes | Main | "Error Aversions and Due Process" »

January 5, 2022

Head of federal Bureau of Prisons has resigned (though will stay on pending a successor)

As reported in this new AP piece: "The director of the federal Bureau of Prisons is resigning amid increasing scrutiny over his leadership in the wake of Associated Press reporting that uncovered widespread problems at the agency, including a recent story detailing serious misconduct involving correctional officers." Here is more:

Michael Carvajal, a Trump administration holdover who’s been at the center of myriad crises within the federal prison system, has told Attorney General Merrick Garland he is resigning, the Justice Department said. He will stay on for an interim period until a successor is in place. It is unclear how long that process would take.

His exit comes just weeks after the AP revealed that more than 100 Bureau of Prisons workers have been arrested, convicted or sentenced for crimes since the start of 2019, including a warden charged with sexually abusing an inmate. The AP stories pushed Congress into investigating and prompted increased calls to resign by lawmakers, including the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee....

The administration had faced increasing pressure to remove Carvajal and do more to fix the federal prison system after President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to push criminal justice reforms. The Bureau of Prisons is the largest Justice Department agency, budgeted for around 37,500 employees and over 150,000 federal prisoners. Carvajal presided over an extraordinary time of increased federal executions and a pandemic that ravaged the system.

After the AP’s story was published in November, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin demanded Carvajal’s firing. Several congressional committees had also been looking into Carvajal and the Bureau of Prisons, questioning employees about misconduct allegations.

In a statement, Durbin, D-Ill., said Carvajal “has failed to address the mounting crises in our nation’s federal prison system, including failing to fully implement the landmark First Step Act,” a bipartisan criminal justice measure passed during the Trump administration that was meant to improve prison programs and reduce sentencing disparities.

“His resignation is an opportunity for new, reform-minded leadership at the Bureau of Prisons,” Durbin said.

Carvajal, 54, was appointed director in February 2020 by then-Attorney General William Barr, just before the COVID-19 pandemic began raging in federal prisons nationwide, leaving tens of thousands of inmates infected with the virus and resulting in 266 deaths.

COVID-19 is again exploding in federal prisons, with more than 3,000 active cases among inmates and staff as of Wednesday, compared with around 500 active cases as of mid-December. All but four BOP facilities are currently operating with drastic modifications because of the pandemic, with many suspending visiting.

Especially with implementation of the FIRST STEP Act on tap (discussed here), on top of all the other challenges prisons face amid a pandemic, leading BOP is anything but an easy job these days.  But I share Senator Durbin's hope that "new, reform-minded leadership" at the BOP will be forthcoming.

January 5, 2022 at 09:04 PM | Permalink


About freaking time! In news—or non-news in fact—related to this post, Louis DeJoy remains in his postmaster post coming up on 1 year post-inauguration, which is just an utter travesty. He should have gone out with the other toxic waste on Day 1.

(Yes, I couldn't resist all the petty pedantic post puns [and alliteration]!)

Posted by: kotodama | Jan 5, 2022 10:48:32 PM

What fascinates and frustrates me is that BOP appears to be an independent force for over-incarceration. Even when Congress and DOJ tell BOP to let people out of prison for various reasons, BOP still rulemakes and makes policy that prolongs sentences. Examples include good time calculations, First Step interpretation, CARES Act Covid release, compassionate release.

I find that bizarre. They're not politically accountable, really, so why be "tough on crime" on the rare occasion Congress tells you to lighten up.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Jan 6, 2022 9:37:35 AM

94 of 98 BOP facilities are currently on top level COVID procedures which probably means lockdowns, no visitation and no programming. BOP is a rogue agency with no accountability. The Inspector General writes reports and nothing changes. DOJ and Congress and the courts all need to start acting to hold these folks accountable for all of the ways they are violating the law and their constitutional obligations.

Posted by: defendergirl | Jan 6, 2022 2:52:03 PM

Having spent 8 years as an inmate in 10 different Federal prisons, I can give you a lot of specific criticisms of the BOP and its staff. But what I will now say is that running the BOP is a completely thankless task, under even the best of circumstances. Nothing runs well when so few BOP staff have so much power over so many inmates; that amount of power and authority always gets abused, it's just human nature. I feel for the man.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jan 6, 2022 9:25:15 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB