Congressman calls for federal investigation into ‘horrors’ at Fort Worth women’s prison
The nation’s only medical prison for women, FMC Carswell, had the highest rate of sexual assault allegations at any federal women’s prison from 2014 to 2018
By Kaley Johnson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
FORT WORTH, Tex. - U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey urged the House Committee on the Judiciary to hold a hearing in North Texas to investigate sexual assaults in federal prisons in response to a Star-Telegram investigation into systemic sexual abuse and cover-ups at a federal prison in Fort Worth.
A months-long Star-Telegram investigation published on Aug. 26 shed light on misconduct at Federal Medical Center Carswell. The nation’s only medical prison for women, FMC Carswell, had the highest rate of sexual assault allegations at any federal women’s prison from 2014 to 2018, and the highest number of assault allegations against staff, the Star-Telegram found. In that period, 35 women at Carswell reported they were sexually assaulted by a staff member.
“I am deeply disturbed by these reports and strongly believe the stories of the victims merit further investigation on a national scale,” Veasey wrote in the letter to the committee.
On Tuesday, Veasey asked the committee to examine prisons with a high number of reports of sexual misconduct and cover-ups by correctional staff, with an emphasis on Carswell. He requested the committee hold a field hearing and ask the Bureau of Prisons directly how it is “actively addressing inappropriate behavior by staff in our federal prisons.”
“(The hearing) needs to take place in Fort Worth, and we need to have an answer for the public. There needs to be some transparency on why these things are happening,” Veasey told the Star-Telegram. “And again, they need to be presented to the public, because it’s a big area of concern. I don’t think these people knew these horrors are happening right in our own back yard.”
Veasey’s letter was addressed to Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Sheila Jackson Lee, chair of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.
The Star-Telegram asked the federal Bureau of Prisons if it plans to investigate the allegations reported by the newspaper. Last week, a spokesman said that the bureau responds directly to members of Congress and “out of respect and deference to Members, we do not share our Congressional correspondence with media or elaborate on the contents of such correspondence.”
The Bureau of Prisons has declined previous interviews and declined to answer specific questions about misconduct at Carswell.
On Wednesday, the Star-Telegram requested an interview with the Bureau of Prisons director, Colette Peters, who was appointed in July. A spokesman said Peters’ schedule “is very full her first few months, but we can re-visit this request in the future.”
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, who also represents Fort Worth, did not immediately respond to requests to comment on misconduct at the prison or Veasey’s call for a hearing.
The Bureau of Prisons’ investigative protocols should be one focus of the potential hearing, Veasey said. Investigative protocols seem to not have been followed in numerous sexual assault cases at Carswell. One woman alleges that in her case, the staff member who assaulted her had previous abuse allegations made against him, but nothing was done, according to her lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons. Veasey also questioned why male staff members are allowed to be in alone with women incarcerated at the prison.
“We need to find out, and have a hearing and a thorough investigation on what the culture is like there,” Veasey said. “And what we can do to change it to make it safer for women that are incarcerated at that facility.”
The staff union at Carswell has also called attention to administrative failures at the prison. In a whistleblower complaint filed in July, the union president at FMC Carswell laid out accusations of “corruption, misconduct and malfeasance.”
Veasey’s letter also referenced the Department of Justice’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, published in July, which emphasizes the need for safe and humane conditions in prisons. According to the strategic plan, the department plans to ensure that staff are accountable for misconduct, “improper conduct or adverse conditions” are thoroughly investigated, and improper conditions are fixed as quickly as possible.
Veasey hopes the hearing will also examine if staff shortages at Carswell — and across the Bureau of Prisons — contribute to misconduct. On Jan. 18, the Carswell local union 1006 filed a whistleblower complaint regarding staff shortages at the prison. Jennifer Howard, the union president at FMC Carswell, said in January that the prison employed 420 people and had 22 vacancies at that time. Howard said the staff shortage was even greater than those numbers show because the agency has eliminated so many positions.
The committee chair will now review Veasey’s request and determine if a hearing should take place. Veasey said the committee’s timeline varies for approving and implementing hearings, but he said he plans to press the committee chair and “let him know time is of the essence.”
“Living in a civilized society means that there’s an expectation that when you have inmates that have been convicted of crimes — regardless of what the crimes happen to be — that when they’re being housed, there’s a certain level of personal security and sanitation,” Veasey said.