Best of the Week


Years of beat work on troubled US federal prisons leads to AP scoop on director’s resignation

Michael Carvajal, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining issues facing prisons and jails during the coronavirus pandemic on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Pool via AP)


On Thursday, Jan. 6, most media, including the AP, had their attention turned toward the anniversary of last year’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the concerns that have surfaced over the direction of democracy. But federal prison system beat reporters Mike Balsamo and Mike Sisak broke news elsewhere.

In the latest in a string of scoops on the Federal Bureau of Prisons, they revealed that Michael Carvajal, the beleaguered director of the system was resigning amid increasing scrutiny over his leadership in the wake of AP reporting that uncovered widespread problems at the agency.

Balsamo, AP’s lead Justice Department reporter, and New York-based Sisak have virtually owned the beat since 2018 when the untimely in-custody death of high-profile inmate Whitey Bulger, followed by the even higher-profile in-custody death of Jeffrey Epstein in 2019, led them to question what goes on behind the walls of the federal prisons.

This time it was a tip to the well-sourced pair that led to the scoop. They immediately drafted alerts and prepared the story while pushing their sources for more information.

What they produced was a story so rich with facts and context from their previous reporting that no other media could match it. The piece was laden with links to their previous stories on Carvajal’s troubled tenure.

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The maximum security United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute, in Terre Haute, Ind., site of the federal execution chamber, is shown, July 17, 2020. – AP Photo / Michael Conroy

One key was the database investigation the pair had conducted of BOP personnel, identifying more than 100 federal prison workers who have been arrested,convicted or sentenced for crimes since the start of 2019,including a warden indicted for sexual abuse,as well as an associate warden charged with murder. That deeply reported story prompted the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,Dick Durbin,to demand that Attorney General Merrick Garland fire the director.

Major media organizations — The Washington Post,NBC News and Politico to name a few — reacted to Sisak and Balsamo’s piece with their own stories on the resignation,but cited AP for its body of work exposing problems at the agency. And hundreds of AP member news outlets used the story verbatim.

For continued domination of the beat,earned over years of tenacious reporting, Balsamo and Sisak are AP’s Best of the Week — Second Winners.

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