Senate panel subpoenas director of federal prisons to testify

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FILE – In this July 6, 2020 file photo, a sign for the Justice Department’s Federal Bureau of Prisons is displayed at the Metropolitan Detention Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The Justice Department on Tuesday named Colette Peters, the director of Oregon’s corrections system, to lead the Federal Bureau of Prisons, turning to a reform-minded outsider as it seeks to rebuild the beleaguered agency (AP Photo/ Mark Lennihan, File)

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The outgoing director of the Bureau of Prisons has been subpoenaed to testify before a Senate committee examining abuses and corruption at the beleaguered federal agency.

Michael Carvajal received a subpoena to appear at a hearing later this month. The subpoena was announced Monday by Sen. Jon Ossoff, chairman of the U.S. Senate Standing Subcommittee on Investigations.

The committee’s subpoena follows an Associated Press investigation uncovering systemic problems within the agency, including widespread criminal activity by staff and rampant sexual assaults at a California women’s prison. .

The Justice Department announced last week that it was replacing Carvajal with Colette Peters, the director of the Oregon prison system. The announcement came about seven months after Carvajal tendered his resignation under mounting pressure from Congress after the AP investigation.

Although Carvajal is a holdover from the Trump administration, the issuance of a subpoena to compel him to appear before the Senate panel is rare, in part because Democrats control both the Senate and the White House. The decision to issue a subpoena illustrates the lengths members of Congress and congressional investigators will bring additional scrutiny to the beleaguered agency that has long ignored intense public scrutiny.

Ossoff and Sen. Ron Johnson, the committee’s top Republican, said the subpoena was issued after the Justice Department refused to make Carvajal available to voluntarily testify.

In a statement, the Justice Department said it was disappointed that Ossoff issued the subpoena and said officials had largely cooperated with the subcommittee’s work and offered to provide a lower-level official. instead of Carvajal.

The department said it was “determined to focus” Carvajal’s final days on preparing for Peters to take office and said to have him prepared for a congressional hearing days before Peters takes control of the agency would be entertaining.

“As the department has previously explained to the subcommittee, we believe that preparing for testimony just five business days before this critical leadership transition may divert Director Carvajal’s time and attention from that goal,” the statement said. of the Ministry of Justice. “Nevertheless, we continue to work with the subcommittee to find an acceptable solution.”

Carvajal has been at the center of a myriad of crises within the federal prison system. His tumultuous tenure included the rampant spread of the coronavirus in federal prisons, a failed pandemic response, dozens of escapes, deaths and critically low staffing levels that hampered emergency responses.

The committee’s investigation included examining abuse, misconduct and corruption both at the US Penitentiary in Atlanta – Osoff’s home state – and more broadly in the federal prison system.

“To date, the subcommittee has not received any legal basis that would preclude Director Carvajal’s testimony before the subcommittee, and the Department of Justice continues to refuse to make him available to testify,” Ossoff said. and Johnson in a joint statement.

The Biden administration had faced mounting pressure to remove Carvajal and do more to fix the federal prison system after President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to push criminal justice reforms. The Bureau of Prisons is one of the largest agencies of the Department of Justice, with a budget of approximately 37,500 employees and more than 150,000 federal prisoners. It has an annual budget of approximately $8 billion.

Peters is expected to take over the agency in August.

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On Twitter, follow Michael Balsamo at twitter.com/mikebalsamo1 and Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak and send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips.

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