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U.S. Bureau of Prisons Official Was Promoted After Assaulting Inmates

Thomas Ray Hinkle, a high-ranking federal Bureau of Prisons official, was sent to restore order and trust at a women’s prison affected by a troubling scandal. Instead, workers say, he left the federal lockup in Dublin, Ca., in a worse state. according to the Associated Press. Staff saw Hinkle as a bully and regarded his presence there — just after allegations that the previous warden and other employees sexually assaulted inmates — as hypocrisy from an agency publicly pledging to end its abusive, corrupt culture. At a staff meeting in March, they confronted the then-director of the Bureau of Prisons and asked why Hinkle keeps getting promotions when his behavior should call for termination. Director Michael Carvajal, offered to look into the issue, but three months later, the agency promoted Hinkle again, putting him in charge of 20 federal prisons and 21,000 inmates from Utah to Hawaii as acting western regional director. Despite numerous red flags, the Bureau of Prisons has repeatedly promoted Hinkle over a three-decade career while others who assaulted inmates lost their jobs and went to prison. Hinkle acknowledged that he assaulted inmates in the 1990s but said he regrets that behavior and now speaks bout it “to teach others how to avoid making the same mistakes.”

At least three inmates, all Black, have accused Hinkle of beating them while he was a correctional officer at a Florence, Co., federal penitentiary in 1995 and 1996. In recent years, Hinkle has talked about beating inmates while a member of a violent, racist gang of guards called “The Cowboys.” One inmate said he felt terrified as Hinkle and another guard dragged him up a stairway and slammed him into walls. Another said Hinkle was among guards who threw him to a concrete floor, spat on him, and used racist language. A third said Hinkle slapped him and held him down while another guard sexually assaulted him. The Justice Department knew about allegations against Hinkle in 1996 but promoted him anyway. The agency promoted Hinkle at least nine times after the alleged beatings, culminating in June with his promotion to acting regional director. Hinkle’s rise is a stark example of what Bureau of Prisons employees call the agency’s “mess up, move up” policy — its tendency to promote and transfer troubled workers instead of firing them. Hinkle conceded that he beat inmates but said he has made significant changes to his life since then, including seeking professional treatment and quitting alcohol. He said he was disciplined — a two-week suspension for failing to report the abuse of an inmate — and that he cooperated fully with investigators. “With the support of my friends, family, and colleagues, and through professional help, I have made the most of my opportunity for a second chance to serve the Bureau of Prisons honorably over the past twelve years,” Hinkle said.


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