Trump-Appointed Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal Could Be Replaced Amid Crises

Senior officials in the Biden administration are weighing whether to dismiss the holdover director of the embattled Federal Bureau of Prisons because of his involvement in multiple crises inside the agency, according to the Associated Press.

Discussions regarding the removal of Michael Carvajal are only in their infancy, and no decisions have been issued, the AP said. Its sources could not comment on the internal talks and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

However, it appears that the bureau is shuffling its senior ranks because of chronic mismanagement, scathing reports from the Justice Department's inspector general and a poor financial outlook, the AP reported.

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Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal; Dr. Jeffry Allen, medical director of the bureau; Henry Lucero, executive associate director of enforcement and removal operations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and Ada Rivera, deputy assistant director for clinical services for ICE Health Services Corps, are sworn in at a June 2, 2020, Judiciary Committee hearing examining issues facing prisons and jails during the coronavirus pandemic. Erin Scott-Pool/Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Since the death of Jeffrey Epstein at a federal lockup in New York City in August 2019, the AP has exposed one crisis after another, including rampant spread of the coronavirus inside prisons and a failed response to the pandemic, escapes, deaths and critically low staffing levels that have hampered responses to emergencies.

At least two regional directors, the officials in charge of federal lockups in the South Central and the Southeast regions—including a Texas prison where inmates routinely walked off the grounds to retrieve drugs and other contraband delivered to them in the woods—are also being replaced.

The Bureau of Prisons said the two regional directors—Juan Baltazar, Jr. and J.A. Keller—are retiring and had been planning to do so. But two other people familiar with the matter said that neither had planned to leave for months and were told other officials were being appointed to their jobs.

The Justice Department, which runs the bureau, did not directly address whether officials were considering removing Carvajal, one of the few remaining holdovers from the Trump administration. Instead, it said it was working to put in place recommendations made by both the department's inspector general and the Government Accountability Office and is undertaking other changes.

"Director Carvajal has formed a task force to help address the fundamental challenges facing BOP," the Justice Department said in a statement to the AP. "That work is an important priority."

Implementing the changes "will be critical to advancing BOP's mission—ensuring that inmates are housed safely and securely, and also providing critical programming and rehabilitation to help those inmates successfully reenter society after they have served their time," the statement said.

Carvajal took over as director in February 2020, just before the pandemic began raging in the bureau's facilities nationwide, leaving tens of thousands of inmates infected with the virus and resulting in 240 deaths. He also oversaw an unprecedented run of federal executions in the waning months of the Trump presidency that were so poorly managed they became virus superspreader events.

Nearly one-third of federal correctional officer jobs in the United States are vacant, forcing prisons to use cooks, teachers, nurses and other workers to guard inmates. The expanded use of that practice, known as augmentation, has been raising questions about whether the agency can carry out its required duties to ensure the safety of prisoners and staff members while also putting in place programs and classes required under the law.

Over the past 18 months, 30 prisoners have escaped from federal lockups across the U.S.—and nearly half still have not been caught. At some of the institutions, doors are left unlocked, security cameras are broken, and officials sometimes don't notice an inmate is missing for hours. Prisoners have broken out at lockups in nearly every region of the country.

The agency's staffing levels have reached a critical point under Carvajal's tenure and officers at several facilities have held protests calling for him to be fired. The agency claims its hiring programs have been successful, though it has significantly slowed its hiring process, pausing most new hires until at least October.

The bureau said it expects to bring on 1,800 new employees, that the initiative has been "a huge success" and continues to focus on hiring and training staff.

The agency has also been plagued by such serious misconduct that then-Attorney General Bill Barr launched a special task force to address criminal wrongdoing by officers at several prisons after a loaded gun was found smuggled in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City, the federal jail where Epstein killed himself in 2019.

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Michael Carvajal, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on June 2, 2020. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Pool/via AP