US prisons chief removed after Epstein’s death
WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr has removed the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons from his position more than a week after millionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein took his own life while in federal custody.
Hugh Hurwitz’s reassignment Monday comes amid mounting evidence that guards at the chronically understaffed Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York abdicated their responsibility to keep the 66-year-old Epstein from killing himself while he awaited trial on charges of sexually abusing teenage girls. The FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general are investigating his death.
Barr named Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, the prison agency’s director from 1992 until 2003, to replace Hurwitz. Hurwitz is moving to a role as a deputy in charge of the bureau’s reentry programs, where he will work with Barr on putting in place the First Step Act, a criminal justice overhaul.
The bureau has come under intense scrutiny since Epstein’s death, with lawmakers and Barr demanding answers about how Epstein was left unsupervised and able to take his own life on Aug. 10 while held at one of the most secure federal jails in America.
A statement from Barr gave no specific reason for the reassignment. But Barr said last week that officials had uncovered “serious irregularities” and was angry that staff members at the jail had failed to “adequately secure this prisoner.”
He ordered bureau last Tuesday to temporarily reassign the warden , Lamine N’Diaye, to a regional office and the two guards who were supposed to be watching Epstein were placed on administrative leave.
Those guards on Epstein’s unit failed to check on him every half hour, as required, and are suspected of falsifying log entries to show they had, according to several people familiar with the matter. Both guards were working overtime because of staffing shortages, the people said.
Multiple people familiar with operations at the jail say Epstein was taken off the watch after about a week and put back in a high-security housing unit where he was less closely monitored, but still supposed to be checked on every 30 minutes.