In a speech on the Senate floor Thursday, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke about a disturbing new report published by NPR and the Marshall Project that details the deaths of seven incarcerated men and allegations of serious abuses by staff at the U.S. Penitentiary Thomson (USP Thomson).
“It’s no secret that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has been plagued by misconduct. One investigation after another has revealed a culture of abuse, mismanagement, corruption, torture, and death that reaches all the way to the top,” Durbin said in a Thursday release. “One of the most troubling investigations was published last week by National Public Radio and the Marshall Project. The title of the report reads, ‘How the newest federal prison became one of the deadliest’.”
“The opening of U.S. Penitentiary Thomson was supposed to improve safety within the Bureau of Prisons, but the reality sadly has been the exact opposite,” he said. “According to this report, seven inmates at U.S. Penitentiary Thomson have died in just two years. Five of them were reportedly murdered by other inmates, two died by suicide. And those deaths are just a snapshot of the grim reality of this facility, the deadly grim reality.”
Durbin continued, “Following the publication of this shocking report, I joined Senator Duckworth, my colleague from Illinois, and Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos [in] sending a letter to the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
“In it, we urged him to launch a full-scale, immediate investigation into the failures of Thomson Prison,” he said. “I spoke with [Inspector] General Horowitz yesterday. He confirmed that his office is investigating the deaths at Thomson along with many other abuses in the Bureau of Prisons.”
Call for new prisons director
In his speech, Durbin also reiterated his calls for a new, reform-minded director to replace BOP Director Michael Carvajal immediately.
Following a November 2021 Associated Press report that found that BOP is a “hotbed of abuse, graft and corruption, and has turned a blind eye to employees accused of misconduct,” Durbin called on Attorney General Garland to dismiss Director Carvajal, and Carvajal’s resignation was announced less than two months later. The Department has yet to appoint a successor, and Carvajal is still in charge of BOP, despite his record of significant mismanagement, the release said.
“But this report about U.S. Penitentiary Thomson is only the most recent look into the house of horrors that is the Bureau of Prisons, the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” Durbin said.
“We already have ample evidence of a pattern of neglect and abuse that’s been embedded in their bureaucracy…The continued overuse of restricted housing and the alleged abuses at Thomson are among the many instances of misconduct, mismanagement that have occurred under the failed leadership of Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal.
“In light of those earlier reports detailing similar failures, I called for Mr. Carvajal’s resignation last November,” he said. “So it was welcome news [that] about six weeks after I asked for his resignation, he announced it. Director Carvajal said he was going to resign. But that was January.
“Now we’re in June and the Justice Department has shown little progress or urgency in naming Carvajal’s replacement,” Durbin said. “As a result, he is still running and mismanaging the Bureau of Prisons. This recent investigation into Thomson makes it clear there are no excuses for further delay.
“So today I’m calling on President Biden, Attorney General Garland, and Deputy Attorney General Monaco to do one of two things: either name a new, reform-minded director to replace Carvajal immediately or appoint an acting director until a permanent selection is made,” he said. “This cannot wait. We need to act before another inmate dies in the custody and care of this federal government.”
Upcoming Senate hearing
Durbin also spoke about the upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on BOP oversight, including the continued overuse of solitary confinement and restricted housing in federal prison facilities such as USP Thomson. Currently, approximately 7.8 percent of BOP inmates are housed in a form of restricted housing.
“In the coming weeks, the Senate Judiciary Committee—which I chair—will be holding a hearing on the Bureau of Prisons. We will examine these allegations of abuse at Thomson and other facilities,” Durbin said. “We need answers from the Biden Administration on the failure to reduce the use of restricted housing and we will discuss what BOP must do to address the staffing crisis that has contributed to this disastrous situation.”