U.S. prisons chief to retire amid criticism over COVID-19 response

Senate Judiciary Committee
Michael Carvajal, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled "Examining Best Practices for Incarceration and Detention During COVID-19," in Washington, U.S., June 2, 2020. Tom Williams/Pool via REUTERS

LOS ANGELES, Jan 5 (Reuters) - The director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons has chosen to retire, the agency said on Wednesday, amid criticism over his performance, including the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He will remain in his role until a new director is appointed.

Michael Carvajal has served for three decades in the agency known as the BOP, which houses more than 135,000 federal inmates. He was appointed director in February 2020 under Republican former U.S. President Donald Trump's administration.

Carvajal faced pressure from members of both parties on the Senate Judiciary Committee over pandemic protocols at the agency, including a lack of adequate testing.

Nearly 42,000 inmates and just under 9,000 staff have recovered from COVID-19, while 275 federal inmates and seven BOP staff have died with the disease.

In November Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on Carvajal to be dismissed, including for "failing to protect BOP staff and inmates from the COVID-19 pandemic."

"His resignation is an opportunity for new, reform-minded leadership at the Bureau of Prisons," Durbin said on Wednesday.

The BOP declined to comment.

Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement that Carvajal's operational experience and knowledge of the BOP "helped steer it during critical times, including during this historic pandemic."

Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Mary Milliken and Richard Chang

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