Durbin Meets With Director Of Bureau Of Prisons, Dr. Hawk Sawyer, To Discuss Criminal Justice Reform

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) met with the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Dr. Kathleen Hawk Sawyer to discuss the Trump Administration’s implementation of the recently-enacted Grassley-Durbin First Step Act, inadequate BOP staffing, and the overuse of solitary confinement.  Durbin also received an update on the activation of the Federal penitentiary in Thomson, Illinois.

“BOP plays a critical role in implementing the objectives of the First Step Act, such as rehabilitating prisoners and preparing them for successful reentry into our society.  In the meeting, I stressed that BOP must address a number of serious implementation problems, including serious staffing shortages and unacceptable racial disparities in BOP’s new risk assessment tool,” Durbin said.  “My colleagues and I worked on a bipartisan basis to pass the First Step Act into law last year.  Now it is imperative that DOJ and BOP properly implement this legislation.” 

Durbin was one of the lead authors of the First Step Act, which was enacted into law in 2018 after years of bipartisan efforts.  The law uses evidence-based recidivism reduction programs to help inmates successfully return to society after serving their sentences.  It also reduces draconian mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.

In March, Durbin introduced legislation to reduce BOP’s use of solitary confinement and improve conditions for inmates separated from the general prison population.  Additionally, in April, Durbin, along with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Brian Schatz (D-HI), requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a follow-up study on the use of restricted housing within the BOP. 

Durbin has also repeatedly pressed DOJ and BOP to address staffing shortages that jeopardize the safety of Federal correctional officers and prisoners.

In June, Durbin met with then BOP Acting Director Hugh Hurwitz.  Durbin also met with Rob Jeffreys, Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, and John Wetzel, President of the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA), to discuss the need for further criminal justice reform efforts at the state and federal levels.