by Matt Clarke
A memorandum from the House Subcommittee on National Security, released on January 2, 2019, concluded that misconduct by senior leadership in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) “appears to be largely tolerated or ignored altogether.”
The committee reviewed thousands of pages of case files and “was able to substantiate many of the allegations of misconduct and retaliation on behalf of agency senior leadership. The Bureau’s Office of Internal Affairs also reviewed, investigated, and even substantiated many of these claims of misconduct through the agency’s internal complaint process.”
However, an investigation into the status of BOP officials who committed misconduct showed that some were “shuffled around, commended, awarded, promoted, or even allowed to retire with a clean record and full benefits before any disciplinary action could apply. Documents and testimony also showed disciplinary action was delayed in some cases to allow senior leaders to retire unscathed.” Such lenient treatment was in marked contrast to the harsh punishments that rank-and-file prison employees often received for minor infractions.
“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 the nine-page memorandum, which noted that a dozen misconduct investigations involving five BOP wardens were opened and closed the same day. Those investigations included allegations of assaulting a prisoner, falsifying records, embezzlement and harassment. The complaining staff members were not informed of the outcome.
The memo contained specifics for two cases. In the first, a senior warden sexually harassed a prison psychologist so much that she felt “creeped out” and eventually reported his behavior to a captain. The captain then reported the harassment to the BOP regional director, and in retaliation was relieved of his duties. Concerned about his job, the captain again contacted the regional director, who flew him to her office. There, she made an astonishing statement.
“Do not bullshit me!” she reportedly said. “I know everything. I see everything! ... [I am] aware that [the senior warden] has allegations of sexual harassment at all of the other 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!”
The regional director convinced the captain to apologize to the warden in order to save his job. That didn’t stop the retaliation, and the captain eventually transferred to another facility with a demotion to lieutenant.
In the second case, an associate warden protected a lieutenant from sexual harassment allegations. The associate warden even went so far as to accuse the complaining employee of “disruptive behavior” when she reported the lieutenant’s continued sexual harassment, and ordered her to stop filing complaints.
The memorandum recommended that the BOP’s employee disciplinary process be amended to ensure the independence of investigations. Currently, local investigators are mostly lieutenants who are subordinate to numerous other officials at the prison. Further, wardens are informed about who is filing complaints and the nature of the complaints as soon as they are made, creating opportunities to influence the investigation or engage in retaliation.
In addition to keeping the prison’s administrative hierarchy out of investigations, the memo recommended that the Office of General Counsel, rather than the warden, be the ultimate deciding authority for disciplinary actions and that the outcome of investigations be shared with the complainants.
The memorandum did not address the impact of misconduct by BOP officials on federal prisoners, who also often face retaliation for reporting misbehavior.
“Overall, people often fear retribution for reporting waste, fraud and abuse,” said one BOP prisoner’s family member who did not want to be identified. “The difference is incarcerated people do not have whistleblower protections like federal employees.”
Sources: republicans-oversight.house.gov, usatoday.com, shadowproof.com
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