WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — The former director of the Ohio state prison system has emerged as a leading contender to run the beleaguered Federal Bureau of Prisons, three people familiar with the matter told the Associated Press Friday.
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 submitted his resignation in January. But said he would stay until a successor is named, the 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 will be the 11th person to lead the Bureau of Prisons since its inception more than 90 years ago, and only the second director with no prior experience at the Justice Department’s largest agency.
The leadership change comes in the wake of Associated Press reporting that has exposed wider problems at the agencyincluding sexual abuse by correctional officers and severely low staffing levels, which has hindered response to emergencies.
A message seeking comment from Mohr was left with a criminal justice consulting firm where he has been working as a senior partner since last October.
Mohr has spent nearly 50 years working in reform, starting as a teacher at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the agency he led from 2011 to 2018., After his retirement, he served as president of the American Correctional Association, a non-profit trade union and accrediting body.
Mohr has also been a prison warden and, between stints in the Ohio system, was a consultant and managing director for Korsivic, formerly known as the Correctional Corporation of America, which owned and operated private prisons and detention facilities.
As head of Ohio’s prison system, Mohr oversaw more than 12,000 employees and nearly 50,000 inmates in 28 facilities. The Bureau of Prisons budgets for approximately 37,500 employees, operates 122 facilities and holds approximately 157,000 inmates.
In Ohio, Mohr prioritized reducing the state’s prison population and led efforts to reduce the number of first-time nonviolent offenders behind bars. He managed to trim it by about 1,000 prisoners during his tenure, but upon his retirement, he said he was “extraordinarily frustrated” that he could not do more.
Mohr also oversaw 15 executions and dealt with various crises, including the 2013 prison suicide of infamous Cleveland female kidnapper Ariel Castro., The Brief Escape of School Shooter TJ Lane 2014, and the murder of a prisoner in a transport van by another inmate in 2017,
The union representing Ohio’s state prison guards often clashed with the stamp, 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 by then-Attorney General William Barr in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic spread to federal prisons across the country, infecting thousands of inmates with the virus and resulting in 295 deaths.
An agency insider who started as a corrections officer and worked his way up the ranks, Carvajal’s turbulent tenure as director involved a failed response to the pandemicWidespread criminal activity among employeesseverely low staffing levels who has obstructed the response to an emergencyPrisoner death and dozens escape,
Carvajal also oversaw an unprecedented run of federal executions in the waning months of the Trump presidency that were so poorly managed they became a virus superspreader event.,
The Associated Press’s reporting highlighting those problems forced Congress to investigate and prompted increased calls from lawmakers for Carvajal to resign or be fired by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that Carvajal “failed to address the growing woes in our nation’s federal prison system, in which the historic First Phase failed to fully implement the Act.” ,” a bipartisan criminal justice measure passed during the Trump administration to reform prison programs and reduce sentence inequalities.
Garland tasked deputy attorney Lisa Monaco to lead the search for Carvajal’s replacement. Posting an ad on LinkedIn, officials went far and wide to try to find candidates outside the typical profile of former directors.
While several officials inside the Bureau of Prisons applied for the position, the Biden administration was looking for someone who had for decades focused on reforming the agency with cultural issues.
Monaco conducted in-person interviews and interviewed several candidates.
Biden administration officials discuss whether to remove Carvajal in spring 2021After the Associated Press reported that widespread corrections officer vacancies were forcing prisons to expand the use of cooks, teachers, nurses and other workers to guard inmates.
The Bureau of Prisons is the only Justice Department agency whose directors are not subject to Senate confirmation. Currently, the Attorney General can appoint anyone to the post.
Bill introduced in Congress days after Carvajal’s resignation would require Senate confirmation As for future bureau directors — placing them under the same level of scrutiny as the leaders of the FBI and other federal agencies — but, so far, the measure has not come to a vote.