By Christopher Zoukis
Mark S. Inch, the retired two-star Army general who was named the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) just last August, who succeeded Thomas Kane, and who had been BOP acting director since January 2016, unexpectedly resigned his position with little fanfare on May 16.
Although the White House summit on prison reform was held two days later, Inch’s resignation went unmentioned at the event, primarily designed to build support for a prison reform measure devised by Trump son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner.
When Kushner’s chief antagonist in developing that bill, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, had announced Inch’s appointment on August 1, 2017, he called the general “uniquely qualified to lead” the federal prison system, since Gen. Inch had been a military policeman for a quarter century and headed Army Corrections for the previous two years. At the time, Sessions predicted Inch would be a “highly effective leader” at BOP.
Ironically, although Inch’s resignation did not cite a reason for leaving his recently acquired position, political scuttlebutt attributed it to conflict during his short term as BOP head with both Kushner and Sessions. The Department of Justice hierarchy did not allow Inch significant input on many key BOP issues, including budget, staffing levels, and senior personnel choices.
He fared little better when trying to influence the prison reform measure developed by Kushner. One possible reason: Kushner would sometimes invite Inch to participate in talks on the prison bill, but Sessions would send another staffer, rather then Inch, to the meetings.
Inch reportedly disliked changes the bill — soon passed by the House of Representatives, by facing an uncertain future in the Senate – would make to the National Institute of Corrections, which in Inch’s view, would have essentially “scuttled” that body, which he saw as a “clearinghouse for best practice” and training wardens. Some prison reform advocates supporting the Kushner-developed bill reportedly viewed Inch as not being committed to wide-ranging reform of the federal prison system.
According to the New York Times, Inch also complained to Sessions’ deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that the administration frequently ignored “departmental norms” in shaping policy towards federal prisons.
BOP was far from being free of controversy during Inch’s brief tenure as BOP director. The agency had quickly reversed an Obama administration policy to phase out BOP use of privately-owned prisons, cancelled contracts with a number of halfway houses (despite a prison reform proposal emphasizing such alternative placements), and staffing levels remained a problem at many prisons, often requiring personnel with other jobs to fill in for security duties. More recently, a BOP announcement of policy changes affecting transsexual inmates sparked new disputes.
Inch’s immediate successor will be Hugh J. Hurwitz, who came to BOP in 1988 as a law clerk, held various staff and administrative positions there before leaving for private law practice and working for several different government agencies, including NASA, the FDA, and the Department of Education. He twice came back to BOP, most recently in 2012. Late last year he was promoted to Assistant Director for BOP’s Reentry Services Division. He will now be BOP’s acting director.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily News, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.