Michael Carvajal, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, is resigning amid scrutiny over his leadership. The Associated Press has uncovered widespread problems at the agency, including serious misconduct involving correctional officers. His exit comes after AP reported that more than 100 Bureau of Prisons workers have been arrested, convicted or sentenced for crimes since the start of 2019, including a warden charged with sexually abusing an inmate. The reports prompted calls to resign by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and other members of Congress. Carvajal’s tumultuous tenure included the rampant spread of coronavirus inside federal prisons, a failed response to the pandemic, dozens of escapes, deaths and critically low staffing levels that have hampered responses to emergencies.
The Bureau of Prisons is the largest Justice Department agency, budgeted for 37,500 employees and over 150,000 federal prisoners. Carvajal presided over a time of increased federal executions and a pandemic that ravaged the system. Durbin, said Carvajal “has failed to address the mounting crises in our nation’s federal prison system, including failing to fully implement the landmark First Step Act,” a criminal justice measure passed during the Trump administration that was meant to improve prison programs and reduce sentencing disparities. Carvajal, 54, was appointed director in February 2020 by then-Attorney General William Barr, just before the pandemic began raging in federal prisons nationwide, leaving tens of thousands of inmates infected with the virus and resulting in 266 deaths. COVID-19 is again exploding in federal prisons, with more than 3,000 cases among inmates and staff. Carvajal started as a correctional officer at a Texas federal prison in 1992. His departure was celebrated by some of his own employees. “Destructive actions by Carvajal have crippled this agency to the point of uncertainty, like a tornado leaving destruction behind,” said Jose Rojas, a leader in the federal correctional officers’ union. “He was a disgrace to our agency. Good riddance.”