WASHINGTON – The Justice Department has tapped the longtime chief of the Oregon Department of Corrections to lead the sprawling federal prison system.
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday described Colette Peters as “uniquely qualified" to manage the federal Bureau of Prisons after overseeing operations at the 14,700-inmate system in Oregon for the past decade.
Peters was the first woman to serve as director of the Oregon prison system and is chairperson of the National Institute of Corrections Advisory Board.
“Colette Peters has a proven track record as a visionary leader in the field of corrections and public safety,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said. “With her experience and judgment, she is the right leader for BOP and its dual mission of providing both safe detention and meaningful preparation for those in custody reentering society. I look forward to working with her.”
Peters takes over a vastly larger department housing more than 157,000 inmates across 122 facilities, long plagued by staffing shortages, security lapses and ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
The appointment of Peters comes after Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal announced his retirement earlier this year.
Carvajal, who had been serving as an assistant director, was elevated to the top spot in early 2020 to succeed Kathleen Hawk Sawyer. She had been appointed by then-Attorney General William Barr to lead the agency after accused child-sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell.
Carvajal has remained at the agency during the search for a successor.
Some lawmakers, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., had been calling for the change, citing the agency's failure to address chronic staffing shortages across the system while the deadly coronavirus continues to claim new victims.
“It’s no secret that BOP has been plagued by misconduct," Durbin said Tuesday "One investigation after another has revealed a culture of abuse, mismanagement, corruption, torture, and death that reaches to the highest levels. In light of those reports, I called for former BOP Director Michael Carvajal’s resignation last November.
“I am hopeful that with Colette Peters, Attorney General Garland and Deputy Attorney General Monaco have chosen the right leader to clear out the bureaucratic rot and reform BOP. It is a tall order, and I look forward to working with Ms. Peters to help her succeed in this new role.”
The agency's staffing problems have marred the system for years, predating Carvajal's tenure. In 2016 and 2018, USA TODAY reported that the agency was tapping nurses, kitchen workers, plumbers and teachers to fill vacant officer positions.
The practice, known as augmentation, has been harshly criticized by Republican and Democratic lawmakers as a safety risk. But prison officials have defended the practice, saying that all staffers receive basic officer training.
Last year, the Associated Press reported that more than 100 federal prison workers have been arrested, convicted or sentenced for crimes since the start of 2019.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Oregon's Colette Peters to oversee federal Bureau of Prisons