Senate panel presses federal prisons director on Atlanta corruption, misconduct allegations

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(WASHINGTON) — A Senate investigation revealed evidence on Tuesday of widespread corruption and misconduct dating back years at a federal penitentiary in Atlanta.

At a hearing Tuesday morning, an investigatory panel led by Georgia Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff intends to press outgoing Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Michael Carvajal on agency records that show staff at the Atlanta federal penitentiary “acted with impunity and even lacked regard for human life,” Ossoff said in his opening statement.

The prison was rife with contraband, including weapons and synthetic cannabis, and large amounts of confiscated drugs were never logged after they were discovered, according to Ossoff.

A lack of security checks also allowed inmates to pass contraband between cells and freely use narcotics, Ossoff said.

Internal reports from 2017 and 2019, now revealed by the committee, found prison guard weapons were improperly stored and at times went missing.

The findings documented by the panel — an investigatory arm of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — include allegations of poorly maintained and often dangerous conditions for inmates. Between 2012 to 2020, a total of 12 inmates died by suicide which the committee linked to a lack of compliance by staff to prison procedures and “complacency, indifference, inattentiveness, and lack of compliance with BOP policies and procedures,” according to Ossoff.

After Carvajal initially declined to testify, the subcommittee subpoenaed him; he announced his retirement at the beginning of the year and plans to leave BOP in August, when his successor takes over.

The U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta has been under public scrutiny for years. An inmate and his fiancée pleaded guilty in 2017 to running what prosecutors described as an “inmate Uber.” The two admitted to transporting convicts to and from the prison, allowing them access to outside food and contraband.

Last year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that four senior prison officers were banned from the facility amid a corruption investigation and the prison’s population was reduced from more than 1,800 to 134.

The Senate panel on Tuesday will also hear witness testimony from the facility’s former chief psychologist and jail administrator.

Representatives with the BOP and the Atlanta penitentiary did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

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