Another Update: USP Tucson Avoids Oversight Month Later

Another Update: USP Tucson Avoids Oversight Month Later

It’s been more than a month since we published this story on what really happened at the minimum-security satellite camp at USP Tucson on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. By the time we published the story, more than 100 days had passed since one of the men in the camp at USP Tucson accessed a handgun and tried to murder his wife during a visit. As that number grows closer to 150, it’s worth summarizing what has happened in terms of accountability since then: almost nothing.

Most of the men have moved back to the camp. But they’re walking on egg shells.

As we explained in this update, most of the men moved back to the camp at USP Tucson on the day we published our original story. After several days of the phones and computers being “down,” the men were able to contact their loved ones and let them know about their return. And, slowly but surely after that, loved ones started getting letters from them. Some of the people I talked to were even able to go visit their loved ones after a few days. This was obviously good news.

But, as it almost always is with the BOP, the news wasn’t all good. For the people who visited their loved ones, it surprised them to see no changes whatsoever with visitor security. When they walked into the visitation room for the first time since the attempted murder they all witnessed, there was nothing to make it any more likely that this visit wouldn’t end the same way. But, for them, a little bit of time with their loved ones was worth the life-or-death risk.

In addition to reliving the trauma of witnessing an attempted murder when they visit, everyone I’ve spoken with has told me a similar story about their loved ones inside walking on egg shells — around BOP staff and other campers. According to some, USP Tucson staff told those in the camp that the returners were dangerous and from a high-security facility. According to others, USP Tucson staff routinely threaten to send them back as part of their never-ending “investigation” into the incident.

Image courtesy of Tony Webster via Wikimedia Commons.

More than a dozen of the men remain in the SHU — and expect to be there indefinitely.

Speaking of the “investigation” into the incident, USP Tucson staff continue to hold more than a dozen — last I heard, the number was 19 — of the campers who were there on the day of the attempted murder in the SHU at the high-security facility with no end in sight. They’re in the SHU, USP Tucson staff says, because of the “investigation” into what happened on Nov. 13, 2022. Once that investigation is over, the staff members say, they’ll join the returners at the camp too.

In theory, this explanation makes sense. If any of these men had something to do with the incident, it’s reasonable for the BOP to move them to a different, more secure facility. And it also makes sense that the BOP would want to separate the men while an investigation takes place. The problem is that USP Tucson staff told the men back in December that the “investigation” into the gun incident was already over. If the investigation is already over, time in the SHU should be as well.

In reality, the men know why they’re still in the SHU. The idea is to punish them a little and silence them a lot. Every now and then, the warden who put them in the SHU and (unsuccessfully) tried to ship them all over the country walks through the SHU and tells the men to “get comfortable” because the end of the “investigation” isn’t coming for a while. Several of the men have asked when they’ll get the hearing they’re entitled to. As of now, those hearings aren’t happening and maybe never will.

But when it comes to accountability for BOP staff, history shows it’ll never happen.

For the loved ones, this is a scandal that should be the focus of endless headlines, congressional hearings and public outrage. But, so far, no national headlines have picked up the story other than this piece and this piece early on by the AP that parroted BOP talking points. As for lawmakers, the only feedback myself, other advocates and the loved ones have gotten are vague commitments that “it will get looked into….” And, when it comes to public outrage, those who know about the incident are angry, but that’s about it.

At this point, it’s clear to me that the loved ones feel disheartened by how difficult — and maybe impossible — it is to hold anyone with the BOP accountable. “Since nothing seems to be happening to hold BOP accountable it feels like they are in control to do whatever they want,” one of them told me. “People don’t want to be become a target or have their loved ones targeted inside.”

Their fears in this regard aren’t baseless. It wasn’t that long ago, for instance, that I came across this article from the AP about Thomas Ray Hinkle, a high-ranking BOP official who kept getting promotions despite beating people early on in his career. When asked about why a staff member who beat the people he was supposed to be protecting was rewarded, the BOP director at the time was pretty much clueless: “That’s something we’ve got to look into….” Hinkle got another promotion right after that.

Image courtesy of  Andrew Schultz via Unsplash.

The BOP could learn a thing or two if it listened to itself about “mistakes” and “second chances.”

When it published its story, Hinkle told the AP that “he regrets that behavior and now speaks openly about it ‘to teach others how to avoid making the same mistakes.’ ” “With the support of my friends, family, and colleagues, and through professional help,” he continued, “I have made the most of my opportunity for a second chance to serve the Bureau of Prisons honorably over the past twelve years.”

These privileges — learning from your mistakes and getting a second chance — are, of course, only reserved for BOP staff. After all, a woman who tried to visit her husband at a minimum-security camp was almost murdered. The BOP’s response? Put her and her daughter in handcuffs and interrogate them without a lawyer. But when a BOP official beats incarcerated people over and over again, he gets a promotion.

Is that the kind of government agency you’re cool with giving more than $8 billion in 2024?

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