Michael Balsamo, Ap

About three summers ago, Associated Press reporters Michael Balsamo and Michael Sisak wondered how Jeffrey Epstein, at the time probably the highest-profile federal inmate in America, was able to commit suicide while in constantly-monitored single-cell lockdown.

They found that “the dysfunction surrounding Epstein’s suicide — guards sleeping and browsing the internet, one of them pulled from a different prison job to watch inmates, both working overtime shifts — wasn’t a one-off but a symptom of a federal prison system in deep crisis.”

Since then, Balsamo and Sisak have reported on sexual abuse at FCI Dublin, crumbling infrastructure and chronic staffing shortages, pervasive criminal misconduct among BOP employees, and management fiascos like the December 2020 executions at USP Terre Haute that turned into COVID superspreader events.

Finally, in January, they broke the surprise resignation of BOP Director Michael Carvajal, a Trump administration holdover, and his top deputy.

Last week, AP published a retrospective that included a surprising invitation to “whistleblowers, inmates and their families, and anyone else who suspects wrongdoing or knows what’s going on and tells us about it” to contact AP online or the reporters by email with tips about the BOP.

What might there be to tell? Congressman Randy Weber (R-Texas) may have a suggestion. After another inmate died at USP Beaumont in a fight with a fellow prisoner on May 1st, Weber – a member of the BOP Reform Caucus – wrote Carvajal to express his:

“dismay[] that, time and time again, the especially dire situation at FCC Beaumont remains neglected by the BOP… I have been informed by COs at USP Beaumont that BOP has used the emergency recall system several times to fill vacant posts. Actions like this only serve as a band-aid to the underlying problems.”

Weber told Carvajal that he “want[s] to be part of the solution, especially at FCC Beaumont, but first, these problems need to be acknowledged soberly by BOP leadership.”

The latest killing happened the same week that AP’s Balsamo and Sisak reported that Carvajal’s March visit to FCI Dublin site of rampant sexual abuse of female inmates by staff (including the prior warden) – was sabotaged by Dublin employees.

“Officials moved inmates out of the special housing unit so it wouldn’t look as full when the task force got there,” AP reported, “and they lied to Carvajal about COVID-19 contamination so inmates in a certain unit couldn’t speak to him about abuse.”

One inmate did manage to confront Carvajal on the rec yard, and spent 15 minutes describing in graphic detail of her alleged abuse. She “grew increasingly upset,” the story said, “calming down only after prison officials brought her tissues. She was eventually taken out of the room and brought to a prison psychologist, where she was offered immediate release to a halfway house. She objected. She wanted to wait so she could tell her story publicly to congressional leaders expected at the prison.”

However, “Bureau of Prisons and Justice Department officials told the woman that because she was a potential witness, she couldn’t talk about the investigation.” She was hustled off to a halfway house.

So far, the Biden Administration has not announced a replacement for Carvajal.

Associated Press, The story so far: AP’s investigation into federal prisons (May 4, 2022)

Rep Randy Weber, Letter to BOP Director Carvajal (May 2, 2022)

Associated Press, Abuse-clouded prison gets attention, but will things change? (May 5, 2022)