By MICHAEL BALSAMO and MICHAEL R. SISAK – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The former director of the Ohio state prison system has emerged as a top contender for the leadership of the crisis-ridden Federal Bureau of Prisons, The Associated Press told Friday. three people familiar with the matter.
Gary Mohr, who has also worked in the private prison industry, tops the list of candidates to replace Bureau of Prisons director Michael Carvajal, who tendered his resignation in January but said he would stay on until that a successor be named, people said.
A final decision has not been made and it is unclear when an official announcement will be made, according to the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity.
Mohr would become the 11th person to lead the Bureau of Prisons since its founding more than 90 years ago, and only the second director with no previous experience at the agency, the Justice Department’s largest.
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The leadership change came following reports from the AP that revealed widespread problems at the agency, including sexual abuse by corrections officers and critically low staffing levels that hampered emergency responses.
A message seeking comment from Mohr was left at a criminal justice consulting firm where he has worked since last October as a senior researcher.
Mohr spent nearly 50 years working in corrections, beginning as a teacher at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, the agency he led from 2011 to 2018. After his retirement, he served as president of the American Correctional Association, a non-profit trade association. and accreditation body.
Mohr also served as a prison warden and, between stints in the Ohio system, served as a consultant and CEO of CoreCivic, formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America, owner and operator of prisons and correctional facilities. private detention.
As head of Ohio’s prison system, Mohr oversaw more than 12,000 employees and nearly 50,000 inmates at 28 facilities. The Bureau of Prisons has a budget of approximately 37,500 staff, operates 122 facilities and has approximately 157,000 inmates.
In Ohio, Mohr made reducing the state’s prison population a priority and led efforts to reduce the number of nonviolent first-time offenders behind bars. He managed to reduce it by around 1,000 inmates during his tenure but, upon retirement, he said he was “extraordinarily discouraged” he could do no more.
Mohr also oversaw 15 executions and dealt with various crises, including the 2013 suicide in prison of notorious Cleveland woman kidnapper Ariel Castro; the brief 2014 escape of school shooter TJ Lane; and the 2017 killing of an inmate in a transport van by another prisoner.
The union representing Ohio state prison guards has frequently clashed with Mohr, criticizing him and the agency for not doing enough to protect correctional officers and reduce violence.
Carvajal, 54, was appointed Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in February 2020 by then-Attorney General William Barr just before the COVID-19 pandemic began to rage in federal prisons across the country, leaving tens of thousands of inmates infected with the virus and resulting in 295 deaths.
An agency insider who started as a corrections officer and rose through the ranks, Carvajal’s tumultuous tenure as director included a failed pandemic response, widespread criminal activity among employees, extremely low staffing levels that hampered emergency responses, deaths of detainees and dozens of escapes.
Carvajal also oversaw an unprecedented series of federal executions in the final months of the Trump presidency that were so mishandled they became virus-spreading events.
AP reports exposing these issues compelled Congress to investigate and prompted lawmakers to ask Carvajal to resign or be fired by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Carvajal “has failed to address the growing crises in our country’s federal prison system, including failing to fully implement the landmark First Step Act,” bipartisan criminal justice. measure adopted under the Trump administration that aimed to improve prison programs and reduce disparities in sentencing.
Garland assigned Assistant District Attorney Lisa Monaco to lead the search for Carvajal’s replacement. Officials have gone to great lengths to try to find candidates outside of the typical profile of former directors, even posting an ad on LinkedIn.
While many Bureau of Prisons officials applied for the job, the Biden administration was looking for someone focused on reforming an agency that had cultural issues for decades.
Monaco personally conducted interviews and met several of the candidates.
Biden administration officials have been in talks about whether to remove Carvajal in the spring of 2021, after the AP reported that numerous corrections officer vacancies were forcing prisons to expand the use of cooks, d teachers, nurses and other workers to guard the inmates.
The Bureau of Prisons is the only Department of Justice agency whose director is not subject to Senate confirmation. Currently, the Attorney General can simply appoint someone to the position.
A bill introduced in Congress days after Carvajal’s resignation would require Senate confirmation of future bureau chiefs – placing them under the same level of scrutiny as heads of the FBI and other federal agencies – but, until at present, the measure has not been taken for a vote.
Associated Press reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report. __
On Twitter, follow Michael Balsamo on twitter.com/mikebalsamo1 and Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak. Learn more about AP’s reporting on federal prisons at apnews.com and send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/
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