WASHINGTON – Serious misconduct by senior federal prison officials is “largely tolerated or ignored altogether” as the agency fostered a culture in which some were shielded from discipline or even commended for their service by colleagues, according to a new congressional review.
“For high-ranking officers, bad behavior is ignored or covered up on a regular basis, and certain officials who should be investigated can avoid discipline,” House investigators concluded in a nine-page report for the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The review is the latest rebuke of the Federal Bureau of Prisons where severe staffing shortages, persistent sexual harassment claims and inmate violence have shadowed operations for years.
The Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to a request for comment, citing the continuing government shutdown.
In November, the Justice Department’s inspector general cited numerous operational “challenges” confronting the sprawling agency as it detailed additional problems in managing its 12,567 female inmates
“For the seventh consecutive year, the need to more effectively manage the federal prison system was included as a top challenge for the department,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz told the same House panel. “Staffing and overcrowding present constant challenges for BOP in carrying out its mission to confine offenders in safe, humane, and cost-efficient environments.”
The new congressional review went even further, however, offering a blistering account of a disciplinary process that often allowed wardens and other senior leaders to operate outside the agency’s own rules.
“The committee reviewed cases where some individuals deemed responsible for misconduct were shuffled around, commended, awarded, promoted or even allowed to retire with a clean record and full benefits before any disciplinary action could apply,” the report concluded. “Documents and testimony also showed disciplinary action was delayed in some cases to allow senior leaders to retire unscathed.”
Congressional investigators found that 12 misconduct cases against five wardens were opened and closed in one just day. The allegations ranged from an assault on an inmate and falsifying records to embezzlement and harassment. In every case, according to the congressional review, the complaining parties were never notified of the cases’ resolutions.
The review cited two specific cases involving two wardens, one accused of “persistent” sexual harassment of a female subordinate and the other accused of protecting a top lieutenant from separate harassment allegations.
Neither of the wardens was identified by name.
In one case, a prison psychologist reported that she was so “creeped out” by the repeated advances by a warden identified as “Employee A,” that she appealed to a captain in 2017 to intervene.
The captain, according to investigators, reported the harassment to a regional director who later ordered the captain to fly to her office where the director “berated him and defended the warden over the course of a two-hour meeting.”
“Do not bull__ me!,” the director reportedly told the captain. “I know everything, I see everything. (I am) aware that (the warden) has allegations of sexual harassment at all of the institutions that he has been to, and he is still sitting in the warden’s chair! People need to realize that and get over it!”