Colette Peters, the new Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) addressed employee misconduct during her September 29, 2022 testimony before the US Senate Judiciary Committee. Scandals have plagued the agency for years with BOP employees being arrested for numerous crimes, including, most recently, the warden and chaplain of a female federal prison camp in Dublin, California.
At the heard, Senator Dick Durbin, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, reminded Director Peters that an Associated Press investigation in November 2021 revealed that two-thirds of criminal cases against Justice Department personnel in recent years have involved the BOP personnel. These charges involved smuggled contraband, rampant sexual abuse of people in custody and staff and other crimes of violence. Director Peters assured senators that the BOP had recently approved organizational structural changes to improve the communication flow throughout the BOP to better handle misconduct investigations and address their investigation backlog. However, recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) report indicates that the BOP has a long way to go in how it investigates wrongdoing inside the agency.
According to the OIG report, it recently asked the BOP’s Office of Internal Affairs (OIA), a component of the BOP’s Office of General Counsel (OGC), about disciplinary action taken by the BOP against an employee for alleged sexual abuse. In response to that inquiry, OIG was told by OIA that, in cases that have not been accepted for criminal prosecution, the BOP will not rely on prisoner testimony to make administrative misconduct findings and take disciplinary action against BOP employees, unless there is evidence aside from inmate testimony that independently establishes the misconduct, such as a video evidence.
That the BOP does not rely on prisoner testimony is at odds with how other federal agencies view prisoner statements. Consider that cooperating witnesses in criminal cases who are often relied upon for testimony. The testimony of these witnesses, many who will go to prison themselves, is often key evidence in criminal cases. The BOP’s statement that they rely on “video capturing the act” is a lofty one for an agency that admitted last year that many of its camera systems at many institutions were inoperable. The sorry state of affairs led to Senator Jon Ossoff introducing legislation to improve BOP camera coverage at all of its prisons.
In the case referenced by the OIG, it obtained highly credible testimony from two female inmates who separately told the OIG that a BOP employee had engaged in sexual acts with them in the prison facility. Regarding one of the occasions, the OIG obtained video evidence showing the BOP employee enter an office in the BOP facility with one of the inmate victims and that the two remained in the room for nine minutes with the lights off. When questioned by the OIG, two inmates who were looking into the unlit office admitted they saw the BOP employee and inmate engaged in sexual activity. Additionally, a number of other inmates provided information that they had become aware of the sexual relationships between the BOP employee and the inmate. When questioned by the OIG, the BOP employee denied the allegations in their entirety and claimed that he was only talking with the inmate in the darkened office for those nine minutes. The BOP employee then told the OIG that it was his practice to keep the lights off in his office; however, video of the office taken later in the day after the sexual misconduct (but before the OIG’s interview) showed the employee in the office with the lights on. Based on this inconsistency in his testimony and other factors, the OIG did not find the BOP employee to be credible.
After BOP declined to submit the action for criminal prosecution, the OIG forwarded its report of investigation detailing the evidence of the employee’s misconduct to the BOP. The BOP response was that the employee had engaged in the appearance of an inappropriate relationship with an inmate by going into the darkened room for nine minutes . The BOP imposed a ten-day suspension on the BOP employee for the misconduct. The OIA informed the OIG that this outcome was the result of the BOP opting not to rely on inmate statements to make administrative misconduct findings. The BOP employee served the ten-day suspension and returned to the institution, additional BOP inmates made sexual abuse allegations against the BOP employee, criminal charges were brought against him, and the BOP employee was ultimately convicted of engaging in a sexual act with one of the inmate victims described above.
The OIG recommended that the BOP create a policy regarding the proper handling of inmate statements in administrative matters. The BOP responded to the report by stating that “it has significant concerns with this recommendation” due to the issues it presents in labor-management relations. However, the BOP would be amenable to including training material on the proper handling of inmate statements in OIA and ELB training curriculum.