WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned Colette Peters, Director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.” Today’s oversight hearing was the third BOP oversight hearing in as many years under Chair Durbin’s leadership of the Committee.
Durbin began by asking Director Peters about the First Step Act’s proven track record of reducing recidivism rates among those who complete its recidivism reduction programming and raised concerns that although BOP has reported expanding First Step Act programming capacity by nearly 35 percent since February 2022, many of the most effective programs are often overcommitted or unavailable.
The First Step Act, which was signed into law in 2018 and authored by Durbin and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), is bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation designed to make our justice system fairer and our communities safer by reforming sentencing laws and providing opportunities for those who are incarcerated to prepare to reenter society successfully. Durbin and Grassley have introduced three pieces of criminal justice reform legislation to further implement the First Step Act and advance its goals.
“We know that generally the recidivism rate of the Bureau of Prisons population stands at 43 percent. Forty-three percent commit another crime after being released from prison in the Bureau of Prisons system. However, if they have been through this program, the First Step Act, only 12.4 percent recidivate and 87.6 percent don’t. That is dramatic. It means time well spent, resources well invested—not to have a recidivism situation like this,” Durbin said. “Tell me where we are in terms of providing the resources for more participation and whether or not we need to do more.”
Director Peters responded, “I think we always need to do more. As of the beginning of this month, we were offering 110 structured activities. Half of those were evidence-based recidivism reduction programs and the other half were those productive activities. You are right, the data is very clear.”
Durbin then asked Director Peters about serious allegations of abuse at United States Penitentiary (USP) Thomson in Illinois. Last week, Durbin, Grassley, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and U.S. Representative Eric Sorensen (D-IL-17) sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, and Director Peters requesting information about these serious allegations of abuse.
“I mentioned it in the opening statement. How did Thomson reach that point, such a low point?” Durbin asked.
Director Peters responded, “I don’t know how an institution gets to that low point. As you said, the Warden reported he had not seen anything like that in his career. I, too, had not seen anything like that in my 30 plus year career in corrections and law enforcement.” She noted that the individuals who engaged in that behavior have been referred for an investigation, some have left the organization, some are pending criminal investigation, and others are pending administrative investigation. She noted that BOP has also greatly increased training at USP Thomson.
“Culture change takes time. I think changing that institution’s mission to a low security mission will help in rebuilding the culture and making that change. We will be keeping a very close eye on that facility,” Director Peters said.
Durbin then asked, “How much do you attribute this to understaffing and augmentation?”
Director Peters responded, “I think accountability is the most important thing. I don’t believe that a lack of staffing and augmentation leads people to treat other human beings that poorly. So for me, it was violations of policies, practices, violations of best correctional practices. I wouldn’t want overtime or augmentation to minimize the egregious choices that these employees made in taking care, or rather not taking care of those in our care and custody.”
Durbin concluded by asking Director Peters about her goals for her second year in the role as BOP Director.
“I am glad you took this job. It is historic that you are in this capacity. Certainly in the first year… you were entitled to the preliminary opportunity to assess the Bureau of Prisons, and to talk about change, and maybe even initiate some change in that first year,” Durbin said. “We expect much more in the second year. What can you tell us?”
Director Peters responded that she has great plans for the second year. “In this next year, you will see the advancements of our strategic planning, the change in our mission, and a true focus on our new core values,” Director Peters said.
Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.
Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.
Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.