Colette Peters, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, was scolded Wednesday by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who say her lack of transparency is hampering their ability to help fix the agency, which has long been plagued by staffing shortages, chronic violence and other problems. Senators complained that Peters appears to have reneged on her promises when she took the job last year that she’d be candid and open with lawmakers, and that “the buck stops” with her for turning the troubled agency around.
Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Mike Lee (R-UT) said Peters has forced them to wait more than a year for answers to written follow-up questions they sent her after she first appeared before the committee in September 2022, leaving them without information critical to understanding how the agency runs.
Cotton and Lee tried to get Peters to commit to a firm deadline for responding. She declined, blaming the delay on when answers would be ready on an ongoing Justice Department review process. Peters irked senators by claiming she couldn’t answer even the most basic questions about agency operations — like how many correctional officers are on staff — and by referring to notes and talking points on a tablet computer in front of her. "Senators really take it personally when you don’t answer their questions,” said committee chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL). “More than almost any other thing ... I'd make that a high priority.” The Bureau of Prisons, the Justice Department’s largest law enforcement agency with more than 30,000 employees, 158,000 inmates and an annual budget of $8 billion, has been under increasing scrutiny amid myriad crises. They include rampant sexual abuse of prisoners by staff and other staff criminal conduct, escapes, high-profile iolence and inmate deaths, and chronic understaffing that has hampered emergency responses.