WASHINGTON — A House committee is launching an investigation into the federal Bureau of Prisons' handling of "egregious" misconduct at the largest government-run detention facility — where the warden and other officials were awarded thousands of dollars in bonuses despite female staffers' persistent allegations of sexual harassment.
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, in letters to the BOP and the FBI this week, highlighted the case of Antwon Pitt, who while serving a 24-month sentence for robbery at the U.S. Penitentiary in Coleman, Fla., "repeatedly harassed and threatened staffers that he would rape and kill them.''
Pitt was never prosecuted for his actions against prison staffers. Yet following his release in 2015, Pitt was convicted of raping a Washington woman during a break-in at the victim's home. It is unclear, Chaffetz said in his letter late Wednesday, whether the BOP informed local Washington officials in charge of Pitt's post-release supervision were informed of Pitt's misconduct as an inmate.
Chaffetz's letters cite reporting by The Washington Post, which highlighted Pitt's case last year, and by USA TODAY, which just last month reported that the BOP paid more than $2 million in bonuses to top administrators across the BOP during the past three years. That included including tens of thousands of dollars to four executives who held senior leadership posts at the Coleman prison where Pitt was serving time.
Execs at troubled federal prisons received bonuses totaling in the millions
Feds struggle to provide prison medical care
Labor fight threatens inmate health care
The payments – which included a $34,000 bonus to Coleman's then-warden Tamyra Jarvis — spanned the time of Pitt's incarceration and during the course of a sexual harassment lawsuit involving hundreds of current and former staffers, who alleged that prison managers repeatedly failed to protect them from years of horrific sexual harassment and threats from inmates.
Jarvis retired in January and was recently appointed corrections director in Escambia, Fla.
A $20 million settlement of the legal action is currently pending before a federal judge.
"Despite these allegations of inmate sexual misconduct against staff, the BOP continued to award bonuses to top administrators at USP Coleman,'' Chaffetz said.
Chaffetz's panel has requested a series of documents, including reports of misconduct during Pitt's prior incarceration. The committee is seeking records of communications between the BOP and Washington supervisors of newly released inmates, and documents detailing all bonus payments and other incentives provided to BOP employees during the past four years.
The bonus payments, especially those approved for top administrators at Coleman, have prompted outrage from staffers and union officials who were instrumental in bringing the legal action on behalf of more than 500 female staffers. Many of the victims were subjected to sexually charged threats and abuse during the course of 16 years according to court documents.
Sandra Parr, a vice president of the national union of prison workers, has said the Coleman bonus recipients were made aware of the problems at the prison "but did nothing to fix anything.''
"These people got bonuses off the backs of people who were actually dealing with the predators,'' Parr told USA TODAY.
Joe Rojas, president of the local union that helped gather much of the evidence in the harassment lawsuit, said there was "no justification at all — none that I can think of — for these people to be rewarded'' with bonuses.
Bureau of Prisons spokesman Justin Long has acknowledged the bonus payments. He said they were authorized by the Office of Personnel Management guidelines. What's more, he said, the Justice Department's pool of available money was recently increased, consistent with an executive order issued by the Obama administration in 2015, urging a strengthening of the government's senior executive service.
The BOP declined to provide specific information or rationale supporting the performance awards, saying that the material could contain references to prison security measures.