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Officials contemplate removing US prisons director

Two people familiar with the matter said that the discussions regarding whether to fire Michael Carvajal were in their preliminary stages, but that a final decision has not yet been made. They spoke only under condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss internal discussions.

There are signs that the bureau is reorganizing its senior ranks in response to growing criticisms of chronic mismanagement, blistering report from the Justice Department's inspector General and a grim financial outlook.

The Associated Press exposed a series of crises since Jeffrey Epstein's death in a New York federal prison in August 2019. These include the spread of coronavirus in prisons, a failure to respond to the pandemic, escapes, and critically low staffing levels, which have hampered emergency response.

Two regional directors are being replaced. They are responsible for federal lockups in South Central and Southeast regions. This includes a Texas prison, where prisoners routinely wandered off the grounds to retrieve drugs or contraband left in the woods.

According to the Bureau of Prisons, Juan Baltazar Jr. and J.A. Keller -- have retired and were planning to do so. Two other sources familiar with the situation said neither Keller nor Keller had intended to retire for months, and that they were informed by other officials that other officials were being promoted to their positions.

The agency announced Wednesday that it had appointed William Lothrop (warden) and Heriberto Tellez (researcher) to their regional posts. Tellez is currently the Metropolitan Detention Center's Brooklyn manager. A 34-year-old inmate was found in his cell on Wednesday morning.

The jail also houses Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite. Her lawyers tried to ask Tellez about the continuous surveillance she was subject to since her arrest for sex trafficking. But a judge declined.

The Justice Department, which manages the bureau, didn't directly address the question of whether officials might remove Carvajal from their ranks, one of few Trump Administration holdovers. It stated that it was working to implement recommendations made by the department's inspector general as well as the Government Accountability Office, and is making other changes.

The Justice Department stated in a statement to AP that Director Carvajal had established a task force to address fundamental problems facing BOP. This work is a priority.

The statement stated that the implementation of the changes was crucial to BOP's mission, which is to ensure that inmates are safe and secure and provide programming and rehabilitation to assist inmates in reintegrating society after their sentences have been served.

Carvajal assumed the role of director in February 2020 just before the pandemic erupted at the bureau's facilities across the country. This occurred just before tens to thousands of inmates became infected and resulted in 240 deaths. In the final months of Trump's presidency, he oversaw a record number of federal executions that were so badly managed that they were virus superpreader events.

Nearly one third of the federal correctional officer positions in the United States are unfilled, which forces prisons to employ teachers, chefs, nurses, and other workers in order to guard inmates. This practice is known as augmentation and has raised questions about the agency's ability to fulfill its duties to ensure safety of staff and prisoners, while also implementing programs and classes required by law.

In the last 18 months, 30 inmates have escaped federal prisons across the U.S. -- nearly half of them still remain uncaptured. Some institutions have doors left unlocked and security cameras broken. Officials sometimes fail to notice that an inmate has gone missing for hours. Nearly all of the country's lockups have seen prisoners escape.

Under Carvajal, the agency's staffing levels reached a critical point and several officers have protested calling for his firing. Although the agency claims that its hiring programs are successful, it has significantly slowed down its hiring process, preventing most new hires from being made until October.

According to the bureau, it anticipates hiring 1,800 new employees. It also stated that the initiative was a "great success". The focus of the bureau's continued efforts is on training and hiring staff.

After a loaded gun was discovered in New York City's Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Epstein committed suicide in August 2019, the agency was also plagued by serious misconduct.

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