The Federal Prisons Accountability Act, sponsored by Rep. Fred Keller of Pennsylvania, would require the director of the Bureau of Prisons to undergo the same congressional review as the directors of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
In addition, the bill would limit the BOP director’s tenure to a single 10-year term.z
The action follows the announcement of BOP Director Michael Carvajal of his retirement. Carvajal, a 30-year agency veteran, was nominated director by President Trump in February 2020 and will serve until a replacement is named.
“With the retirement of Director Carvajal, our legislation is not only timely to ensure that the American people have oversight over the future leadership of the BOP, but a critical step needed to address operational challenges like staffing shortages and inmate security,” Mr. Keller said in a statement. “It’s long past time for the BOP to be held to the same high standards as the other of the country’s leading law enforcement organizations.”
The head of the Bureau of Prisons is in charge of a $7 billion budget, 36,000 personnel, and 172,000 federal detainees. Despite a “downward trend” in the federal prison population, the DOJ Inspector General’s annual report dubbed the BOP’s rising expenses a “persisting issue,”
according to Mr. Keller.
Mr. Keller, the leader of the House Organization of Prisons Reform Caucus, said Congress needs to improve supervision of the scandal-plagued bureau and modify the way its head is appointed through the Federal Prisons Accountability Act.
Unlike other Justice Department administrators and directors, the attorney general now has the authority to designate someone to the BOP position.
If President Biden signs the law after Carvajal’s replacement is named, that individual may be needed to go through Senate confirmation.
Senate Republicans, led by Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, have attempted to pass a similar bill four times since 2012. Mr. Keller’s legislation was first submitted in 2020. The
bill has never been debated on the floor of either legislature.
Carvajal’s retirement, however, may provide an opportunity for lawmakers to make the case for the legislation to their colleagues, as The Associated Press reported in November that more than 100 Bureau of Prisons employees had been arrested, convicted, or sentenced for crimes since the start of 2019.
In recent years, two-thirds of criminal prosecutions involving DOJ officials included federal prison workers, according to the Associated Press. BOP workers and contractors make up less than a third of the department’s staff; of the 41 arrests made in 2021, 28 were made by BOP employees or contractors. The FBI had five, the DEA had two, and the ATF had one.
One thing is for sure the BOP is long overdue for some kind of supervision, with record-setting deaths, over-blown budgets, and bonuses the Federal Prisons Accountability Act may be the first step to having that desperately needed watchful eye.