U.S. pris­ons chief out af­ter Ep­stein’s death

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - MICHAEL BALSAMO

WASH­ING­TON — U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral William Barr has re­moved the act­ing di­rec­tor of the Fed­eral 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 re-en­try pro­grams, where he will work 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 the 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 halfhour, 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.

They spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not autho­rized to pub­licly dis­cuss the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Hur­witz is a long­time bu­reau­crat who joined the bureau in 1998. He had also served in the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment, the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion and worked for NASA’s Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral. He re­turned to the prison agency in 2015 and was ap­pointed act­ing di­rec­tor by then-At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions in 2018.

He also weath­ered through the death of mob­ster James (Whitey) Bul­ger, who was killed in a fed­eral prison in West Vir­ginia in Oc­to­ber. Law­mak­ers, advocates and even prison guards had been sound­ing the alarm about danger­ous con­di­tions there for years, but there has been no pub­lic in­di­ca­tion that fed­eral prison of­fi­cials took any ac­tion to ad­dress the safety con­cerns.

As di­rec­tor of the bureau, Hur­witz was re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing 122 fa­cil­i­ties, 37,000 staff mem­ber and about 184,000 in­mates.

Hawk Sawyer was the first woman to lead the agency and held a num­ber of jobs dur­ing nearly 27 years there. She worked as a psychologi­st at a fed­eral cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity, was as an as­so­ciate war­den and then a war­den at other fa­cil­i­ties, and was nom­i­nated to lead the agency dur­ing Barr’s first stint as at­tor­ney gen­eral in the early 1990s.

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