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Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco Delivers Remarks at BOP Warden Training


Aurora, CO
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good morning. Thank you for that warm welcome.  

I wanted to be here with you in person—and to join this first all-warden training since the pandemic—because the work you do is critically important to the safety of the American people.

You represent a long and proud tradition in managing corrections facilities going back to the establishment of the Bureau in 1930.

As wardens you basically run small cities—it is honorable work with many challenges.

It is honorable work because every day, your leadership is part of the Department’s overall work to keep the country safe, uphold the rule of law, and protect civil rights.

As the Director discussed this morning, the Bureau of Prisons has a dual mission—and one that she and the Bureau’s leadership team is reinvigorating with new mission and vision statements and a set of core values to guide the work of the Bureau into the future.

The Bureau is charged with ensuring public safety through the safe and humane housing of adults in custody and—just as importantly—ensuring that those adults in custody return to their communities fully prepared to be good neighbors.

I know you all work every day to uphold that mission. Your leadership of our nation’s federal correctional institutions is mission critical.

I also know that you share my deep concern when we fail to live up to that mission. And we have come up short too frequently in recent years.

I’ve spent more than 16 years in the Department of Justice—and the last two years as Deputy Attorney General. I know the complexity of the mission you carry out. That’s why early in my tenure, I recognized the need to bring both reform and resources to the Bureau of Prisons.

So, when it came time to select a new Director, I knew that we needed a reform-minded leader to take the helm and set the course.

In Colette Peters, the Bureau has a passionate leader and supporter of all of you who carry out the Bureau’s mission.

Colette has hit the ground running and done a great job in her first nine months as the Bureau’s Director. Her work, and your work, give me great confidence and optimism for the Bureau’s future.

The direction she and the leadership team are charting—and that she laid out this morning—is focused on change and reinvigorating the Bureau’s mission and values. But it cannot be done alone.

The Bureau needs great leadership not just from its Director but from all of its leaders—that means each of you. You laid the groundwork for these efforts before Director Peters’ arrival, and you will carry the mission forward.

Your staffs look to you as examples of how to conduct themselves. Through your actions, you can strengthen the Bureau now and for years to come.

You can effect positive change in the culture of this institution, positive change in the lives of your staff and those in your care and custody, and positive change for our nation’s communities.

So, the Bureau’s mission must be our collective work.

The new mission, vision, and values statements that the Director announced this morning are an important part of our collective work to bring about positive change.

These statements speak to the life-changing work that you do and that you lead across the country.

Your work is challenging—and has been made more so by budget and staffing shortfalls, a once-in-a-century pandemic, and an environment that seems to only pay attention to setbacks.

You have the difficult job of maintaining safe custodial settings under demanding circumstances. In my travels to multiple Bureau facilities, I’ve heard from employees at all levels about staffing shortages, training backlogs, and infrastructure challenges—and how all of it contributes to low morale.

But those challenges cannot—and must not—stand in the way of maintaining a safe and restorative environment both for those in custody and for BOP staff.

Those challenges also must not stand in the way of helping adults in custody develop the necessary skills to lead productive lives when they reenter society.

The new core values outlined by the Director—and developed with critical input from professionals across the Bureau—will be important guideposts.

Simply stated, these values are what we expect of every Bureau employee and what you should expect of each other—from Bureau and Department leadership in Washington, D.C. to every Bureau employee across the country.

  • Accountability to the public and your teams
  • Integrity in the conduct of our mission
  • Respect for all we serve—and serve with
  • Compassion for one another
  • Excellence

I am committed to working with you and Director Peters to give you the resources and support you need to live these values and to address the issues you encounter every single day.

In Washington, D.C., I will continue to fight for the funding we need to shore up staffing, upgrade infrastructure, and fully resource critical programming.

Addressing staffing shortages and infrastructure deficiencies across BOP is a top priority for me and the Attorney General.

Improvements in staffing, of course, must go hand-in-hand with improvements to employee wellness. Director Peters and those in Department leadership are working on that, as well. 

I want to be clear: Your emotional and mental well-being is just as important to us as your physical well-being. We will continue to prioritize mental health and wellness resources for all of you and your teams.

Before I close, I want to spend a few minutes—during this Sexual Assault Awareness Month—on a topic that is critical to the new course the Director laid out this morning: preventing and rooting out sexual abuse by Bureau personnel.

When sexual abuse is left unanswered, it leaves everyone less safe. We fail the individuals entrusted to our care. And we fail the Bureau’s employees who work every day to make our facilities safe and count on us to do the same. We cannot allow sexual abuse to fester in Bureau facilities.

This is a top priority for me, for the Attorney General, and for Director Peters—just as I know it is a top priority for you.

Last year, I asked officials and experts from across the Department to form an Advisory Group to address this issue.

I thank you for the work going into implementing its initial recommendations.

I believe there’s no substitute for hearing directly from the people doing the hard work, day in and day out, to bring about change, so I’ve asked members of this group to do just that.

So, in the coming weeks, members of the group will be visiting women’s facilities in each of the Bureau’s six regions.

The goal is to engage first hand with you, your staff, and the adults in your custody, to talk about the work you’re doing and consult on the reforms and resources needed to root out sexual misconduct.

These Sexual Abuse Facility Evaluation & Review (SAFER) teams will be focused on ensuring SAFER environments for you, your teams, and those in your custody and care.

This effort builds on recent steps toward accountability for those who have not lived up to the Bureau’s mission and values.

Recent prosecutions and convictions of Bureau personnel for the sexual abuse of women in custody demonstrate that the Department will not tolerate abuse of authority and will ensure accountability for sexual misconduct.

Last week, in a message to U.S. Attorneys and other Department leadership, I urged prosecutors to prioritize cases involving the sexual abuse of individuals in Bureau custody and to investigate these cases with vigor and dispatch.

And earlier this month, at the urging of the Department, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to strengthen criminal penalties for sexual abuse of those in custody. The Department requested and strongly supported these stiffened sentences, which better reflect the nature and gravity of these crimes.

I am grateful to the Commission for its determination to better hold accountable those who abuse their authority.

But prosecutions only play one part in rooting out and preventing abuse.

As the Director highlighted in her recent letter to all Bureau employees, you play a crucial role before we get to the stage of criminal punishment—you set the tone from the top. You protect the people within your custody, and you create the environment where misconduct is called out and shut down before sexual abuse occurs.

And you also play a critical role after a criminal conviction in supporting the victims of this egregious misconduct.

So, to this end, let me stress a few key points —

  • You are the most important messengers when it comes to setting expectations for your staff. We ask that you stress the importance of reporting all forms of misconduct, respecting the rights of those within your custody, and explaining how staff and those in custody alike can make protected reports about sexual abuse.
  • You should also connect with the U.S. Attorney in your district to ensure coordination and collaboration on sexual abuse cases. Opening and maintaining that line of communication is something that you can and should be doing. U.S. Attorneys will welcome your collaboration on these efforts.
  • I also urge you to ensure that victims have the services they need. Often, that will mean helping them access legal services and mental health services, including from community providers.
  • In other cases, the Department recognizes that sentencing reductions may be warranted. The Department has sought—and will continue to seek—reductions for victims of sexual abuse who cooperate in investigations and prosecutions.
  • The Department also believes that compassionate release is appropriate in certain circumstances for victims of adjudicated sexual abuse.
  • Often, you are the initial gatekeepers for these compassionate release motions, and I urge you to work with the Office of the General Counsel to carefully evaluate these petitions on a case-by-case basis.
  • And finally, you can and should promote training and other educational opportunities for instruction on preventing and rooting out sexual abuse.

It is only by empowering Bureau officials, at every level, to report abuse —

By setting a tone of respect and humanity from the top —

By fostering an culture that does not tolerate even one instance of sexual abuse —

Only then can we make true progress in addressing this problem.

Let me be clear: this is a top priority at the highest levels of the Department of Justice, and it must be a top priority for each of you.

I’ve had the chance to meet a number of you and your staffs on my visits around the country.

I’ve heard about the challenges you face, but I’ve also learned about the amazing work being done in your facilities.

Yes, the work is difficult, and the days are long. But the work that you and the 35,000 employees of the Bureau do changes lives. 

From ensuring safe and humane housing for those in your care and custody to helping those who leave your custody become good neighbors, your work makes a difference in keeping the country safe.

That is our sacred responsibility, and the work you do every day helps us meet the moment.

I’ll close by asking that when you return home and to your respective facilities, I hope you’ll take to heart two things:

First, the Department’s leadership understands your challenges, and we have your backs. We’re here to support you.

And second, working together, we have a great opportunity to make the Bureau a better place to work and improve the safety of our communities. 

Thank you for your leadership and dedication in service to that mission.

Updated April 25, 2023