It’s not every day you see Congress members from both sides of the aisle united in frustration. But when it came to grilling Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters this Wednesday, there was no lack of bipartisan exasperation.
Why? Because Peters, who promised openness and transparency when she took on her role last year, has been seemingly skirting accountability and leaving the Senate Judiciary Committee in the dark.
Senators Tom Cotton and Mike Lee, for instance, have been waiting with bated breath for more than a year to get answers on how the Bureau operates. They’re still waiting. Promised transparency has turned into long pauses and delayed replies, making us all wonder, “What’s really going on behind those prison walls?”
It’s a bit baffling that someone helming an agency can’t give basic details. Peters, when prodded for even the most elementary questions about agency operations, kept glancing at her tablet for answers. Senator Dick Durbin didn’t mince words when he said that ignoring senators’ questions is a surefire way to ruffle some feathers. And in case you’re thinking, “Maybe she’s still settling in?”—Peters has been at this post for a year. As Senator Jon Ossoff rightly pointed out, “Congress expects results.”
The Bureau of Prisons is no small entity. As the Justice Department’s giant, with a whopping budget of around $8 billion, more than 30,000 employees, and a responsibility to care for 158,000 inmates, there’s a lot at stake here. The Bureau has been caught in a whirlwind of scrutiny—stories of staff misconduct, sexual abuse of inmates, troubling incidents of violence, escapes, and the tragic loss of inmate lives. Not to mention, the chronic understaffing which seems to hinder efficient emergency responses.
Transparency isn’t just about accountability; it’s about ensuring the system works for the inmates, employees, and the public. If the Bureau of Prisons is to regain trust and effectively operate, its leader must be candid, proactive, and responsive. And it’s high time for Peters to step up and truly embody the phrase she once uttered, “the buck stops here.”