JOHN KIRIAKOU: Scrap the US Bureau of Prisons

Employee misconduct runs rampant in the largest bureau run by the Department of Justice and no amount of “congressional oversight” is going to help. 

Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn, New York. (Prison Insight/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

In 2022, investigators at the U.S. Department of Justice had to open 14,361 cases against 17,907 employees  of the Bureau of Prisons, or BOP. That’s in a bureau with 37,000 employees.

At that rate, according to the annual Office of Internal Affairs Report, literally every employee of the BOP — the largest bureau within the U.S. Department of Justice by budget and number of personnel — will collect a misconduct allegation in seven years.

Those are awful statistics.  But that’s not the only bad news.  Even worse is that in the Justice Department at large investigators found that 99.7 percent of misconduct allegations were determined to be “unfounded.”  In the BOP, the number was more like 71.3 percent. 

That’s still nonsensical, of course.  The BOP is a well-known destination for flunkies from the U.S. military and for losers who couldn’t make it through the local police academy. 

Just take a look at the book In Defense of Flogging, by Professor Peter Moskos of the John Jay School of Criminal Justice.  He says that the BOP is nothing more than an employment agency for otherwise unemployable rural, uneducated, white men.  And a closer look at prosecutions over the past few years show what a mess the BOP finds itself in.

First, let’s look at the most recent statistics.  In fiscal 2022, complaints were lodged against 6,593 BOP employees, almost 1-in-5.  The charge was “sustained” against 1,892 of them.  Of those, 19.3 percent resigned, nine percent were demoted or fired.  And 65 percent were given a reprimand or suspension.  The remaining 6.7 percent were criminally prosecuted.

The prosecution of BOP employees is actually more difficult than it might seem.  For one things, prisoner testimony is not considered.  Ever.  An October 2022 memo from the DOJ’s Inspector General outlines the policy:

“In cases that have not been accepted for criminal prosecution, the BOP will not rely on inmate testimony to make administrative misconduct findings and take disciplinary action against BOP employees, unless there is evidence aside from inmate testimony that independently establishes the misconduct, such as a video capturing the act of misconduct, conclusive forensic evidence, or an admission from the subject.” 

Good luck with that.  As Washington, D.C., prisoner rights attorney Deborah Golden told The Washington Post, “Staff throughout the Bureau know that they can abuse men and women in federal custody with impunity, as long as they don’t admit it or do it on camera.”

The Biden administration’s new BOP director, Colette Peters, told a congressional committee in December 2022 that, “Employee misconduct is always unacceptable and must never be tolerated.  Stopping sexual misconduct at bureau facilities is an issue of critical importance.” She promised to take “concrete steps” to immediately correct the problem. 

Colette S. Peters, director of the Bureau of Prisons, giving congressional testimony in September 2022. (C-Span still)

What are those “concrete steps?”  Peters said that the BOP, “Must enhance prevention of sexual misconduct,” and that the bureau must “change the culture and environment in bureau facilities.”  On top of that, Peters asked Congress for money to hire 40 investigators to address “delays in processing discipline, which can have a detrimental impact on the secure running of institutions and on employee morale.”

Sampling of Legal Actions

I have a news flash for Director Peters:  Staff shortages don’t cause your guards to rape prisoners.  Poor morale doesn’t cause your guards to smuggle drugs into your prisons.  Delays in processing don’t cause your guards to steal and embezzle from the prisons in which they work.  Let’s take a look at a small sampling of some of the most recent legal actions against BOP employees.

  • BOP Lt. Eugenio Perez, a former guard at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for forcing four prisoners to perform oral sex on him.
  • Ronnie Landis, a guard at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) at Big Spring, Texas, got three years of probation and an $11,183 fine for stealing a prison utility vehicle and six tires and taking them home.

Aerial view of Federal Correctional Institution, Big Spring, Texas. (Prison Insight/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

  • Phillip Golightly, a guard at FCI Tallahassee, got two years for raping a prisoner in a prison kitchen storage closet.
  • Paul Hayes, a guard at FCI Victorville in California, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for accepting $15,000 in bribes to smuggle cellphones, methamphetamine and suboxone into the prison.
  • Stephen Taylor and Shanice Bullock, two guards at FCI Petersburg in Virginia, were sentenced to four years and 10 months respectively, for taking $46,841 in bribes to smuggle cellphones, cigarettes, heroin, and suboxone into the prison. Jimmy Lee Highsmith, a guard at FCI Tallahassee, was sentenced to four years in prison for raping a prisoner.
  • Jose Viera, a guard at MDC Los Angeles, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for taping a prisoner after crawling into bed with her after “lights out.”

Metropolitan Detention Center Los Angeles, 2013. (Levi Clancy, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

  • Christopher Goodwin, a guard at FCI Lexington in Kentucky, was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for raping four prisoners and threatening to kill one of them if she reported the attack.
  • Hosea Lee, Jr. a drug treatment specialist at FCI Lexington received nearly seven years in prison for raping multiple prisoners and threatening to harm them or their families if they reported the attacks. He was also ordered to pay more than $56,000 in restitution.
  • Abel Concho, a guard at MDC Los Angeles, was sentenced to three months in prison for lying to investigators about sexually abusing a prisoner. He said at first that he had never had sex with the prisoner, but later admitted to having had sex with her 35 times.  He said that they had also had oral sex “two or three times,” but later admitted that the number was 28 times.  His sentence also included a lifetime ban on employment in law enforcement.

Aerial view of the front of Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin, California. (Jesstess87, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

  • James Highhouse, the chaplain at FCI Dublin in California, was given seven years in prison for multiple rapes at what became known as the prison’s “Rape Club,” a series of crimes that also ensnared the facility’s warden.

The Bureau of Prisons is broken.  It doesn’t matter who the director is.  No amount of congressional “oversight” is going to help the situation.  No appointment of new leadership is going to change the culture.  The entire organization needs to be scrapped and rebuilt. Platitudes on Capitol Hill or in the media aren’t going to improve the situation.  Hands-on leadership will.  And none of that appears in sight.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

6 comments for “JOHN KIRIAKOU: Scrap the US Bureau of Prisons

  1. Janine
    April 20, 2023 at 17:28

    I don’t quibble with what’s wrong, as reported here. But what do we do about it? What will make honest officers? Who will do the job and resist abuse of power, and how do we build that? (Serious questions, I don’t have the expertise to answer.)

  2. Warden Hood
    April 20, 2023 at 15:39

    As former Chief of Internal Affairs and Warden of many federal prisons (including the United States “Supermax” Penitentiary in Colorado), I commend John Kiriakou for publishing this article. Although I disagree with some of his comments about staff, no one can ignore facts about sustained misconduct and criminal convictions. Today’s Bureau has lost its moral compass and the high standards it once maintained. Their website ( states, “The BOP is a leader in correctional excellence and consistently recognized for outstanding government stewardship.” Many of the current 34,418 employees and 159,070 inmates would disagree with that statement. Recently, former warden Ray Garcia was sentenced to 70 months in prison for sexually abusive conduct against three female inmates. He reports to prison at the end of May after abusing his authority while in charge of the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, CA. Regardless of his crime, the 55 year-old sex offender will retain a six-figure retirement until he expires. Since the agency was established in 1930, it has transitioned from being a progressive and humane environment for inmates and staff, to the current status as relayed in Kiriakou’s article. Director Peters is the 12th leader of this agency — and I wish her the best.
    Robert Hood, Retired Senior Executive Service (SES) Warden – United States Department of Justice.

  3. CaseyG
    April 19, 2023 at 20:07

    Do the Rapists go to regular jails to serve their time, or do the rapists continue on with their raping in large jail populations? Is there a special jail for the rapists?
    Perhaps they should all serve time in jails where they are all in a special rapist jail—–where none are ever allowed into a general population. You know, locked away like Julian Assange is by terrible governments like those in the UK and the USA. Rapists are treated better than publishers , as the truth tellers are so often ignored while the perverts have much better treatment. We’re very far away from that ,” more perfect union,” America.

  4. Elsa Collins
    April 19, 2023 at 11:27

    John Kiriarkou, thank you! to bring us the truth and to be the voice of vulnerable people. Many prisons in US and UK are used as place to grossly abuse prisoners and innocent civilians who have no committed a crime and have not been charge.
    This gross injustice must END!

  5. Anon
    April 19, 2023 at 10:13

    Tragic… an individual of conscience forced to experience similarly abusive “Special Administrative Measures” during prison stay for whistleblowing…
    That’s our reporter John.
    Truly an American hero.
    The good news?
    CN continues to run his (and other’s) alternative info.
    As for the system… this commenter notes conviction sentences for the crime of rape… aren’t all of us experiencing inforape?

    • Valerie
      April 20, 2023 at 11:26

      “aren’t all of us experiencing inforape?”

      Is that synonomous with mind/mental rape?

      Looks like those guards should swap places with the inmates.

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