Senator Jon Ossoff recently pressed the new Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director to crack down on corruption, crime, and abuses in Federal prisons.
In July, as Chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Sen. Ossoff unveiled the results of his 10-month bipartisan investigation that uncovered corruption, abuse, and misconduct at U.S. Penitentiary Atlanta and within the BOP that likely contributed to loss of life; jeopardized the health and safety of incarcerated people and staff; and undermined public safety and civil rights.
Sen. Ossoff also asked Director Peters to commit to working in good faith with Congress and the DOJ Inspector General should his new bipartisan Federal Prison Oversight Act pass, which would overhaul Federal prison oversight.
Earlier in September, Sen. Ossoff unveiled the results of his 10-month bipartisan PSI investigation of uncounted deaths in America’s state and local jails and prisons. Sen. Ossoff asked Director Peters if BOP would make publicly available facility-by-facility death data within BOP facilities.
SEN. OSSOFF: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for your continued leadership and oversight of the Bureau of Prisons. It’s been a pleasure working with you and I’m proud of the legislation we’ve introduced together this week, which we’ll touch on in a moment.
“Director Peters, congratulations on your appointment. I appreciated your time yesterday when we met my office. And as I said then, I want you to succeed in fixing what’s broken at an agency where quite a bit has been broken.
“I want to begin noting that in July, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, or PSI, held a hearing as part of our months-long investigation into corruption, misconduct, and abuse at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.
“I’d like to ask you for your commitment to join me on a site visit at U.S. Penitentiary Atlanta later this year to inspect the facility, to meet with and hear directly from those who are incarcerated there, including pre-trial detainees and the staff, and to brief the public on our conclusions thereafter. Can you make that commitment to me, please?”
DIRECTOR PETERS: “Senator, you and I spoke about this yesterday, I was already scheduled to visit USP Atlanta, and it would be an honor to tour that facility with you.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Excellent, I appreciate that.
“I want to follow up again on that same hearing an investigation that the PSI undertook and is continuing. Following then Director Carvajal’s testimony in July, we submitted questions for the record to the Bureau of Prisons, and responses were due on September 15th. We’ve heard nothing from BOP or DOJ, nor have we received any request for an extension. And this is consistent with long-standing and consistent challenges that we’ve had securing the information that we need from the Bureau of Prisons and from the Department as part of the ongoing oversight of the Bureau of Prisons.
“I want to emphasize, of course, my recognition that you’re new in this post, and you do not bear responsibility for those past failures to comply with Congressional oversight. As I mentioned yesterday when we met in my office, my hope is that with the fresh leadership that you bring to the Bureau, that you can set a new tone of cooperation with Congress as we engage in good faith oversight of the Bureau of Prisons.
“And I recognize that the Department of Justice plays a role in determining how requests for information are conveyed to Congress. I’d like to ask for your commitment that you will make every effort that you can to get me as soon as possible information about when we can expect answers to those questions and to expedite their production to the best of your ability.”
DIRECTOR PETERS: “I will, Senator.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Thank you, Director, I appreciate that. In addition to those questions for the record from the July hearing, to which we’ve not yet received a response, we have two outstanding letters from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to the Bureau of Prisons related to an ongoing investigation, one from April and one from August.
“And again, we’ve received no information from the Bureau of Prisons in response. So, I’d like a similar commitment from you that to the best of your ability and to the extent that it’s within your power, you’ll do everything you can to get me as specific and precise information you can about when we will receive responses to those requests and the production of relevant records. Can make that commitment?”
DIRECTOR PETERS: “I can, Senator.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Thank you, Director Peters. Do you agree and would you welcome what I believe is needed, which is strong and independent oversight of BOP, in light of the misconduct, and deficiencies, and failures that you acknowledged in your opening statement in which you’ve committed to address?”
DIRECTOR PETERS: “I do, Senator. I’ve had multiple conversations with the Inspector General himself and see him as a partner and someone who will help us pivot to the future.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “I’m glad to hear that. Yesterday with Chairman Durbin and our Republican colleague, Senator Braun, I introduced the bipartisan Federal Prison Oversight Act, which will overhaul oversight of Federal prisons, significantly strengthen DOJ’s Inspector General to conduct that oversight, as well as establish a new independent Ombudsman of the Department of Justice to handle and investigate complaints from either incarcerated people or staff.
“Should this bill pass, will you commit to working in in good faith with the Congress, with the Department’s Inspector General and with the office of the Ombudsman to ensure its successful implementation and to provide timely those records requested by those entities?”
DIRECTOR PETERS: “Of course, Senator.
SEN. OSSOFF: “Thank you, Director. I held a hearing just recently in the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations focused on state and local prisons and jails, and deaths in custody, and we focused on the efforts of the Department of Justice to collect death and custody data.
“This is well outside of your purview — that’s a matter for the Office of Justice Programs — but I’d like to ask if you will publish for the public, facility-by-facility death data within BOP facilities.”
DIRECTOR PETERS: “I can certainly consult our team of lawyers and see if that’s a possibility.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “I appreciate that. And if you wouldn’t mind letting me know what you determine, I’d be grateful for that. Finally, Mr. Chairman, with your permission, just very briefly, Director. This was an issue that came up frequently in questioning of director Carvajal.
“Senator Durbin questioned him repeatedly, and I questioned him in PSI about who has ultimate responsibility for what happens at the BOP. And again, I’m wishing you the best. I want you to succeed, and I want to help you to succeed to fix what’s broken.
“The buck will stop with you and does stop with you, correct?”
DIRECTOR PETERS: “That is correct, Senator.
SEN. OSSOFF: “You will bear personal and ultimate responsibility for what happens at the Bureau of Prisons, correct?”
DIRECTOR PETERS: “That is correct, Senator.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “I want to encourage you to consider being personally briefed on the suicide reconstruction reports that are produced when inmates in BOP facilities commit suicide. Those are an invaluable resource for you to understand what’s happening in your facilities. Will you make a commitment to be briefed on the findings of those suicide reconstruction reports at BOP facilities?”
DIRECTOR PETERS: “Senator, I’ve already read many of those reports, so I would continue that practice.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “On an ongoing basis?”
DIRECTOR PETERS: “That is correct, Senator.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Thank you, Director Peters, thank you Mr. Chairman.”