Whistleblower calls for corruption investigation at Fort Worth women’s prison

Since the arrival of a new warden at Federal Medical Center, Carswell in May, allegations of staff misconduct at the federal women’s prison have increased.

By Alexandra Hart & Cristela JonesJuly 18, 2022 1:45 pm, ,

Corruption, misconduct and malfeasance are just some of the accusations in a whistleblower complaint against Federal Medical Center, Carswell — a women’s prison in Fort Worth.

Jennifer Howard, the union president at FMC Carswell, is calling for a congressional inquiry into operations at the facility, claiming that management has been covering up misconduct reports and retaliating against staffers who raise concerns. She sent a letter in early July to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey.

Kayley Johnson has been covering this story for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She talked with the Standard about her reporting.

This transcript has been edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: Tell us a little bit about this prison and the population that’s housed there.

Kayley Johnson: FMC Carswell is actually the only federal women’s facility in the country that attends to women’s medical needs. So it has a lot of vulnerable women who are incarcerated there, many women who need cancer treatments or have mental health needs. So it’s a very vulnerable population and it houses about 1,200 women at the facility, which is in Fort Worth.

This complaint is being brought by Jennifer Howard. She’s the union president at the prison. Tell us about some of Howard’s allegations.

So this is actually the third whistleblower complaint in about two years that Jennifer Howard and the union FMC Carswell have brought to the attention of the public. So the first one in March 2022 was a whistleblower complaint about a lack of COVID guidelines, and that was filed about three days before a woman there who was pregnant at the time was diagnosed with COVID. That woman ended up giving birth and then dying from coronavirus. She was the first woman to die in federal custody from coronavirus.

Some of the complaints that Howard detailed to me are pretty concerning. She says that there are allegations of staff misconduct that do not get investigated, especially she said when staff report upper management for misconduct.

What specifically are they alleging that upper management or others did?

So, for example, there is a new warden at the prison, Michael Smith, who took over in May, and she [Howard] alleges that he has not honored many of the agreements that the prison has with the union. And he will blatantly not abide by some of those rules, such as not allowing people to have a steward in certain meetings when they request one. She said that people have been put on unpaid leave without proper policies being followed. And she said in this letter that he does not follow them, quote, “simply because he does not like them.”

So there are some allegations about breaking some federal rules involving unions. She also said, for example, a staff member reported that they were being sexually harassed by a woman who was incarcerated at the prison. And when they reported this harassment to upper management, a unit manager expunged the reports. The staff member was put back into the same unit with the woman he says is stalking and harassing him, which is obviously not a situation that anyone wants.

What have prison officials had to say about these allegations?

The Bureau of Prisons, their response was that they do not comment on investigations or matters subject to legal proceedings. They did refer the Star-Telegram to their national policy on staff misconduct — is that staff misconduct is taken seriously and referred for investigation and everything is certainly investigated.

Jennifer Howard criticized that response. She said that is not what they are seeing at Carswell all the way to upper management and the warden. And she said that that is not what is occurring. Investigations are not happening or they’re not happening in a timely manner.

Has Howard been sending letters to lawmakers? And how likely is it that there would be a congressional hearing over what’s happening at FMC Carswell?

So she sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, to Senator Cornyn’s office, to Congressman Mark Veasey, is what she told me. I also understand that the union plans on sending the whistleblower complaint to the BOP Reform Caucus and the Whistleblower Protection Committee. So this was a letter that wasn’t necessarily put out to the public. It was sent to those officials.

None of those officials let me know whether they are planning to push for a congressional inquiry. They said that they had received the letter and were going over the allegations. So it’s unclear whether further action will be taken by those political leaders.

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