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Saturday, November 26, 2022

Former Ohio prison chief top contender to run US prisons

The former director of the Ohio state prison system has emerged as a leading contender to run the troubled federal prison bureau, three people familiar with the matter told the Associated Press.

Gary Mohr, who has also worked in the private prison industry, tops the list of candidates to replace Prison Bureau director Michael Carvajal, who submitted his resignation in January but said he would not name a successor until Till then he will remain. people said on Friday.

According to the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity, a final decision has not been made and it is unclear when an announcement will be made. After this story was published, Mohr responded to an email seeking comment that was sent to a consulting firm where he works. He said he was “shocked to see an article describing me as a top contender” for the position and denied that he had applied or was interviewed.

People familiar with the matter insisted on Saturday that Mohr was among those being seriously considered for the position.

If elected, Mohr would become 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 came after Associated Press reporting that has highlighted widespread problems at the agency, including sexual abuse by corrections officers and severely low staffing levels, which have hindered responses to emergencies.

Mohr has spent nearly 50 years working as an educator at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the agency he headed from 2011 to 2018. After his retirement, he served as the president of the American Correctional Association, a non-profit trade association. and recognized bodies.

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.

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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 2014 escape of school shooter TJ Lane; and the murder of a prisoner in a transport van by another inmate in 2017.

The union representing Ohio’s state prison guards has 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 in February 2020 by then-Attorney General William Barr, before the COVID-19 pandemic spread to federal prisons nationwide, infecting thousands of inmates with the virus and resulting in 295 in deaths.

An agency insider who started out as a corrections officer and worked up the ranks, Carvajal had a rough stint as director. There was a failed response to the pandemic, widespread criminal activity among staff, severely low staffing levels that have hindered the response to emergencies, prisoner deaths and dozens of escapes.

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.

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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 were in discussion about removing Carvajal in spring 2021, after the Associated Press reported that wide-ranging corrections officer vacancies would allow prisons to expand the use of cooks, teachers, nurses and other workers to protect inmates. was forcing.

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.

A bill introduced in Congress days after Carvajal’s resignation would have required Senate confirmation for future bureau directors—putting them under the same level of scrutiny as leaders of the FBI and other federal agencies—but, for now. Till date, the remedy has not come up for a vote.

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Associated Press reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report. ,

On Twitter, follow Michael Balsamo at twitter.com/mikebalsamo1 and Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak. Read more about Associated Press’s reporting on federal prisons at apnews.com and send confidential suggestions by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/.

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