Colette Peters, the outsider brought in to reform the ailing federal Bureau of Prisons, pledges to hold accountable any employees who sexually assault inmates, reform archaic hiring practices and bring new transparency to an agency that hasbeen a haven of secrecy and coverups. Peters discussed her vision in an interview with The Associated Press, her first since becoming director nearly three months ago. Peters wants to reorient the agency’s recruiting and hiring practices to find candidates who want to “change hearts and minds” and end systemic abuse and corruption. She would not rule out closing problematic prisons.
As Oregon’s prison director, Peters developed the “Oregon Way” of running prisons, which aims to transform “environments inside correctional facilities to be more normal and humane." She oversaw sharp drops in Oregon’s inmate population. Skeptics in the federal prison system’s rank and file have derided her approach as “hug a thug.” Peters offered a different term: “chocolate hearts.” Peters said her ideal prison worker is as interested in preparing inmates for returning to society after their sentences as in keeping order while those inmates are locked within the prison walls. It’s a departure from the agency’s recruiting model that stressed the law enforcement aspects of the job. Peters’ approach is similar to how prisons are run in Norway, where the focus behind bars is more on rehabilitation and promoting a humane approach. Peters acknowledges major hurdles to reforming a behemoth of more than 30,000 employees, 158,000 inmates and an annual budget of about $8 billion.