Charles E. Samuels, Jr., director of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, will retire this year, he has told agency employees. Samuels’ departure comes at a time when his agency is under intense review for its rise in inmate population as many states have cut back on theirs. A Congressionally-chartered panel, the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, is in the middle of a year-long study of possible reforms in the federal prison system, and several key members of Congress have introduced bills to change sentencing and release laws with the idea of bringing down the inmate total. Samuels, a 27-year bureau employee who has headed the agency since 2011, cited a long list of accomplishments in his retirement message. These included “evidence-based [inmate] reentry programs,” adopting Prison Rape Elimination Act standards, expanding “compassionate release criteria,” and managing federal prisons “at near record levels of crowding” and contributing to “record declines in our population for the first time in 34 years.”
Last September, DOJ announced that the federal prison population had fallen by 4,800 prisoners from the previous year to a total of about 215,000 after having topped 219,000 in 2013. The count was 208,522 as of last week. Because Samuels’ plans were not announced by the parent U.S. Department of Justice and are not widely known, it was not immediately clear if those who follow the federal prison system’s challenges will again call for an outsider to head the agency, which traditionally has been directed by someone who has risen from the ranks. When previous BOP director Harley Lappin announced his retirement at the same time that he was arrested for drunk driving, Margaret Colgate Love, a former U.S. Pardon Attorney, wrote for The Crime Report that, “Ideally, the new head of BOP would be someone with experience managing a major state correctional system, someone who knows how to shield elected officials in a crisis, woo a stingy legislature, and use a bully pulpit.” Other groups such as the American Bar Association and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers also called for a prominent corrections expert to head BOP, but then-Attorney General Eric Holder, who was responsible for the appointment, chose Samuels.