Yazoo City whistleblower exposes lies, crimes, abuse in federal prison system

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Yazoo Federal Prison Correction Officer and whistleblower Fred Chambliss stands beside poster of Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters who advocates turning inmates into “good neighbors.” (Photo courtesy of Fred Chambliss)

Fred Chambliss began working as Correctional Officer at the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) in Yazoo City in April 2012. Starting out there at the age of 29, he was an upbeat, people person and he believed that he would be able to bring hope and a sense of humanity to those he’d be working with every day, both the staff and his fellow officers in the prison workforce and to the male detainees that he was responsible for overseeing. 

Married and the father of four, back in 2012 he was enthusiastic about his job, happy to be a member of Local 1013 of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the prison union of which he would soon become vice president. He worked regular hours during his first year or two, but he would occasionally hear some of the more experienced officers complain about a problem they were having in receiving overtime pay. 

“That was happening for a while before I even got there,” Chambliss says. “I didn’t work any overtime when I first started, but later on when I started working overtime, I kept noticing that my overtime money was missing from my paycheck. All of a sudden at one point it turned out that I was missing 48 hours of overtime.” 

He went through the proper channels to find out how to recover the overtime money. “They told me I was going to get my money in the next pay period,” he said. “I waited and waited but the money never hit my account.” 

Out of frustration, he sent a few emails to the prison management, including the warden. His questioning the top management at the Yazoo City facility, however, triggered a series of spiteful and life-threatening responses that might have broken the will and ended the career of a weaker man. But Chambliss stuck to his guns in fighting for employee rights. He would soon discover that his story unveiling in backwoods Mississippi was just one of the thousands of crimes, abuses, and major corruption scandals hidden behind the walls of the federal prison system. 

“I got suspended by the warden for three days for sending those emails out,” Chambliss said. “But the Union picked up my case and agreed that I was in the right. We filed a lawsuit and I won. As a result, several people got thousands of dollars behind me speaking up.” That was in 2016-2017. Fast forward to 2023 and Fred Chambliss remains on the outside after nearly two years of paid administrative leave, combined with intense stress and emotional and psychological ordeals. Before gaining paid leave, he had to go seven months without pay. This is the fate of a whistleblower in the federal prison system today, he says. 


After sex trafficker and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who had many friends in high places like Donald Trump, Bill Gates and England’s Prince Andrew, among many others, reportedly committed suicide in 2019 while in the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City, the prison system was due for a major shakeup. How could such a high-profile prisoner be left to his own devices in a federal prison? A call for the overhaul of the prison system rang out from lawmakers, press, and prison rights activists from every direction. 

“Epstein’s death put increased scrutiny on the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and led the agency to close the Metropolitan Correctional Center in 2021,” the Associated Press reported on June 1, 2023. “It spurred an AP investigation that has uncovered deep, previously unreported problems within the agency, the Justice Department’s largest, with more than 30,000 employees, 158,000 inmates, and an $8 billion annual budget.” 

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General revealed in its 2023 Semiannual report that the OIG received nearly 4,000 complaints of “official misconduct, force, abuse, rights violations” made against BOP employees over two-years. 

At least two wardens and two prison chaplains in the federal system were found guilty of rape of female prisoners, and an associate warden was charged with murder, AP reported. And over the same period, more than 100 federal prison workers were arrested, convicted, or sentenced for crimes. The guilty ranged across the entire spectrum of prison employees from wardens, their assistants, medical staff, and correctional officers. BOP employees were found guilty of taking cash to smuggle in drugs and weapons, and supervisors were caught stealing property such as tires and tractors. 

Four employees, including the former warden, at the Dublin Women’s facility in California each face up to 15 years in prison on rape and sexual battery charges against female inmates. This series of reports spurred the resignation of BOP director Michael Carvajal, who had been appointed by Donald Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr in February 2020. Carvajal’s tenure consistently was identified with staff shortages, increased inmate deaths, escapes, and a shocking number of arrests and firings of BOP personnel. 

Colette Peters was appointed director of the Bureau of Prisons in August 2022 by AG Merrick Garland. Her prior work was as Director of the Oregon Department of Corrections, where she served for 10 years. She has worked for 30 years in public safety. She testified under oath that she supports whistleblowers and wants them to come forward, Chambliss said. “It is our duty to come forward,” he said, “and I’ve been trying to come forward with the information that I have, but they keep ignoring me.” 

The Partnership for Public Service rated the BOP as the worst agency to work for in the entire federal system. The bureau’s ranking of 35 on the Place-to-Work index compares very unfavorably to the ranking of NASA, the highest, with an 85 PTW index. 


FCI Yazoo received a crushing report in the AP investigation. Yazoo Warden Danon Colbert reportedly allowed an official who was responsible for investigating the misconduct of other staff members to stay on the job, even after he was arrested by the Yazoo County sheriff on charges of stalking and harassing another staff member who had accused him of a crime. Another prison worker reported that the same official assaulted him inside a housing unit, grabbed his arm, and trapped him inside an inmate’s cell. 

Chambliss said he was very familiar with these two cases of misconduct at the Yazoo facility and many more and that he had filed charges against the same corrupt investigator. 

“In January 2023, they made up four bogus cases on me that by their timetable dated back to 2018 and 2019,” said Chambliss. “Three of the four cases involved Special Investigator Jorge Girardo, who was himself under investigation for misconduct and was one of the people I have reported. Internal Affairs said they had no record of any disciplinary actions or accusations against me, and I wasn’t even working on the date that Girardo and a lieutenant said they had caught me sleeping on the job.” 

As recently as September 1, the current union representative at FCI Yazoo (In the absence of both the union president, Cyndee Price, and Chambliss, the vice president, who are both on administrative leave) has accused Warden Colbert of “turning a blind eye to charges of workplace violence and harassment.” 

A high-ranking white collar employee threatened serious harm to a union member on March 6, saying, “At the end of the month, I’m going to bust your head!” The warden, however, has taken no action despite three letters of appeal submitted to him by the threatened employee and by the union representative. 

“I absolutely know what is happening here,” Chambliss said. “This is the same kind of harassment and threat I was subjected to when I first filed a complaint of a hostile workplace and harassment.” 

BOP policy states plainly that “BOP employees will work in an environment free from harassing conduct and intimidation from all employees, contract workers and inmates, regardless of their position. Employees who make claims of harassing conduct or provide information related to such claims will be protected against further harassing conduct or retaliation. 

“BOP assures rights of union representation. Both the union and management share a commitment to the safety of employees through the identification and prevention of workplace violence.” 

No employee should be placed on administrative leave for more than 10 days at a time, says Chambliss. But Chambliss has been on administrative leave for 22 months, with pay. He was on administrative leave without pay in 2021 for over seven months.


In 2020, Chambliss was in line for several promotions, which would have moved him up to Senior Officer Specialist, he said. 

“I was steadily doing my job,” stated Chambliss. “I was great at my job, training all these new people. Yet, I got passed over for promotion twice. After the second time, I made it known in another email. 

“I let it be known that people were cheating on these tests. But they did not investigate. They just swept it under the rug. Policy of the bureau is to investigate these types of complaints. But they never did anything. And they bypassed me again on another promotion.” 

Chambliss submitted a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity office, and it was accepted. At about the same time, he won the vice presidency of his union, Local 1013. Chambliss says his current lawyer has appealed the BOP decision to pay him settlement money and move him out of the system. 

“Now it’s in federal court in the discovery stage,” he said. “We’re just waiting for a trial date because I refused the settlement they offered me. It went as far as their giving me a memo saying they were going to investigate my hostile working environment complaint. Come to find out, they never investigated. They lied and they never sent my hostile working environment complaint up.” 


Congressman Bennie Thompson wrote to the director of BOP to address allegations of deplorable working and living conditions of staff and inmates at Federal Corrections Complex in Yazoo City. 

“I have received information about allegations of sexual misconduct, safety violations, inmate health issues, and illegal staff searches,” Thompson stated. “On April 7, 2020, I wrote a letter to your office asking for an investigation into the mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak at the Yazoo facility. Just two months later, a federal corrections officer in Mississippi was indicted for allegedly accepting bribes to provide contraband for inmates. The federal corrections officer accepted money from an individual in return for providing contraband to a federal inmate at the Yazoo City Federal Correctional Complex. 

“Due to prior misconduct and violations at the FCC in Yazoo City, these new allegations are likely warranted and should fully be investigated.” 

Thompson attached a list of all the violations on record about conditions at the Yazoo City Federal Correctional Complex. 

Chambliss says he has very little faith in the promises of Director Colette Peters made on Sept. 22, 2022 before Durbin’s Senate committee. Peters told the committee that she supports whistleblowers and wants them to come forward under her watch, Chambliss said. “I called her out on her statement. I sent her several emails and even went so far as to go to the federal prison grounds while I am on administrative leave,” he said. “I went to the prison at Yazoo, I stood on top of their sign, blowing my whistle as a whistleblower; I called my director’s name out. I did all this to get the attention of the media and the police. I wanted to go to jail to bring some attention to the corruption of FCC Yazoo City. 

“My union president was going through the same thing. She won an award of $300,000 through arbitration. But the bureau appealed the award and they wound up retaliating against her. They sent her home on administrative leave on bogus allegations, like they did with me.” Chambliss says the BOP has offered him a similar settlement but it requires him to withdraw his complaints and give up any future hope of working in the federal system. 

“I was offered the same thing,” he said. “And they wanted me to accept the offer and resign and drop the complaint. I refused that offer. I consider it an insult and it doesn’t even begin to compensate for the damage done to my credit rating and other losses during the long period of being on leave without pay.” 

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Yazoo City whistleblower exposes lies, crimes, abuse in federal prison system

By Earnest McBride
September 11, 2023