By MICHAEL BALSAMO and MICHAEL R. SISAK – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Colette Peters, the director of the Oregon prison system, has now emerged as the top contender to run the federal prison system, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Peters, who has headed the state’s corrections department since 2012, is leading the list of candidates to replace Bureau of Prisons director Michael Carvajal, who tendered his resignation in January but said he would stay on until that a successor be named, the person said.
She would be the 11th person to lead the Bureau of Prisons since its founding more than 90 years ago, and only the second director with no previous experience at the agency, the largest in the Justice Department. While many Bureau of Prisons officials applied for the job, the Biden administration was looking for someone focused on reforming an agency that had cultural issues for decades.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco led the search for Carvajal’s replacement. The leadership change comes amid reports from the AP that revealed widespread problems at the agency, including sexual abuse by corrections officers and critically low staffing levels that have hampered emergency responses.
The person was not authorized to discuss job search details and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Peters did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The development was first reported by the Oregon Capital Chronicle.
As director of Oregon’s prison system, Peters is responsible for about 4,700 employees in an agency with a $2 billion budget. There are approximately 14,700 inmates in the 14 state prisons. The state’s Corrections Department has also touted its role in the state’s efforts to reduce the prison population and reduce recidivism.
Peters holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Colorado at Denver and a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Oregon’s prison system, like many in the United States, has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, and Peters’ agency has been criticized for not doing enough to respond to the pandemic behind it. bars. In Oregon, 46 people held by the Department of Corrections have died so far after testing positive for COVID-19, and more than 5,400 people have tested positive for the virus while in custody.
In 2020, Peters publicly apologized for the death of an inmate as the state prison system agreed to pay a record $2.75 million to the family of the man who died from the flu. The settlement came nine months after Michael Barton’s family filed a $15million wrongful death lawsuit accusing prison staff of failing to treat the 54-year-old for the flu and then covering up his related death has the flu.
The Bureau of Prisons has also come under criticism over the outbreak of COVID-19 in all 122 federal prisons nationwide. Carvajal, 54, was appointed Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in February 2020 by then-Attorney General William Barr just before the COVID-19 pandemic began to rage in federal prisons across the country, leaving tens of thousands of inmates infected with the virus and resulting in 295 deaths.
An agency insider who started as a correctional officer and worked his way up, Carvajal’s tumultuous tenure as director included a failed pandemic response, widespread criminal activity among employees, inmate deaths and dozens of escapes.
Carvajal also oversaw an unprecedented series of federal executions in the final months of the Trump presidency that were so mishandled they became virus-spreading events.
AP reports exposing these issues compelled Congress to investigate and prompted lawmakers to ask Carvajal to resign or be fired by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Carvajal “has failed to address the growing crises in our country’s federal prison system, including failing to fully implement the landmark First Step Act,” bipartisan criminal justice. measure adopted under the Trump administration that aimed to improve prison programs and reduce disparities in sentencing.
Biden administration officials have been in talks about whether to remove Carvajal in the spring of 2021, after the AP reported that numerous corrections officer vacancies were forcing prisons to expand the use of cooks, d teachers, nurses and other workers to guard the inmates.
The Bureau of Prisons is the only Department of Justice agency whose director is not subject to Senate confirmation. Currently, the Attorney General can simply appoint someone to the position.
A bill introduced in Congress days after Carvajal’s resignation would require Senate confirmation of future bureau chiefs – placing them under the same level of scrutiny as heads of the FBI and other federal agencies – but, until at present, the measure has not been taken for a vote.
Other candidates for the position include Gary Mohr, the former director of the Ohio prison system. While many had pushed Mohr for the job, he never officially applied for the job and is no longer in the running.
On Twitter, follow Michael Balsamo on twitter.com/mikebalsamo1 and Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak. Learn more about AP’s reporting on federal prisons at apnews.com and send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/
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