New bureau head will face high rates of inmate and correctional officer suicides, understaffing and issues with reporting of employee misconduct.
The Justice Department on Tuesday named career prisons official Michael Carvajal as the permanent director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Carvajal was most recently the assistant director of the bureau’s Correctional Programs Division. He will replace Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, whom Attorney General William Barr brought back from retirement to be the temporary BOP director in August following the suicide of financier and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein in a Manhattan correctional facility. Hawk Sawyer will stay on as a senior adviser to help the bureau with the transition.
“Michael’s nearly 30 years of experience with the bureau will serve him exceptionally well as he takes on these new responsibilities, and I am confident he will do an outstanding job as director,” Barr said in a press release. “I want to thank Kathy Hawk Sawyer for her exceptional leadership and helping us identify a highly qualified individual to serve as permanent director.”
Carvajal is an Army veteran who started working at the bureau in 1992. In his tenure he’s held a variety of roles nationwide, including correctional officer, warden and Northeast regional director. In August 2018, he became Correctional Programs Division assistant director. This part of the agency guides implementation of national policies, oversees inmate case management, and coordinates transfers of inmates and manages contacts with private prisons, among other things.
Carvajal will now be in charge of overseeing the bureau's 122 federal prisons, almost 37,000 employees and more than 170,000 inmates nationwide. Don Williams, father of a slain correctional officer who became an advocate for federal prison employee safety through his organization Voices of JOE, said he is concerned with the “constant turnover and replacement of leadership” in the bureau because it “is not good for consistency and managing the agency in a predictable manner” and “creates chaos.”
Former Director Hugh Hurwitz was reassigned to be assistant director of the bureau's Reentry Services Division in August. Although the Justice Department did not explicitly mention Epstein in its announcement, the week prior, Barr criticized the entire bureau and Manhattan facility for letting Epstein commit suicide under its watch. The Justice Department and its inspector general are still investigating the circumstances around the financier’s death, the Associated Press reported.
High rates of inmate suicides along with understaffing, unsafe work conditions, employee misconduct reporting issues and high suicide rates of correctional officers are some of the issues with which the bureau has been grappling in recent years.
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