By Janita Kan
Attorney General William Barr announced on Aug. 19 that the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has been reassigned, a week after disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein was found unresponsive in his federal prison cell.
Hugh Hurwitz, who served as the prisons chief for the last 15 months, has been asked to return to his role as Assistant Director of BOP’s Reentry Services Division where he will oversee the implementation of the First Step Act, the attorney general said in a statement. The statement did not give a specific reason for the reassignment.
This comes after the bureau was placed under intense scrutiny following Epstein’s death. Many lawmakers expressed concern and have demanded answers over how the 66-year-old 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.
While speaking at an event in New Orleans on Aug. 12, Barr said that there were “serious irregularities” at the facility that was “deeply concerning.” He expressed concern over the prison’s “failure to adequately secure this prisoner.” The FBI and the Office of Inspector General are conducting investigations over his death.
In his statement on Aug. 19, Barr said Dr. Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, who was the prison chief from 1992 and 2003, has been appointed to take over as the new director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The attorney general also appointed Dr. Thomas R. Kane, who has served under four attorney generals, as the bureau’s deputy director.
“During this critical juncture, I am confident Dr. Hawk Sawyer and Dr. Kane will lead BOP with the competence, skill, and resourcefulness they have embodied throughout their government careers,” Barr said in the statement.
According to the statement, Sawyer began working at the bureau in 1976 as a psychologist before taking on numerous other roles throughout the bureau. In 1989, she was picked as assistant director for the program review division before serving as the bureau’s chief for a decade.
Last week, Barr temporarily reassigned the warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in New York, where Epstein was held, pending the outcome of multiple investigations into his death. The Justice Department spokesperson also added that two staff members of the prison have been placed on administrative leave.
“[T]he Attorney General directed the Bureau of Prisons to temporarily assign the warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York to the Bureau’s Northeast Regional Office pending the outcome of the FBI and OIG investigations into the apparent suicide of Jeffrey Epstein, a former MCC inmate,” Department of Justice spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement on Aug. 14.
“FCI Otisville Warden James Petrucci has been named Acting Warden of the MCC New York. The Bureau of Prisons also placed on administrative leave two MCC staff assigned to Mr. Epstein’s unit pending the outcome of the investigations. Additional actions may be taken as the circumstances warrant,” Kupec wrote, without identifying the staff members.
At the Aug. 12 event, Barr said he was “appalled” by the news and vowed that a thorough probe into Epstein’s death would be conducted.
“We will get to the bottom of what happened, and there will be accountability. But let me assure you this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein. Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice, and they will get it,” the attorney general said during his remarks.
The 66-year-old was placed on suicide watch after he was found injured and semi-conscious in his prison cell with marks on his neck on July 24. But he was taken off that watch at the end of July and returned to the jail’s special housing unit.
There, Epstein was supposed to have been checked on by a guard about every 30 minutes. But investigators have learned those checks weren’t done for several hours before Epstein was found unresponsive, a person familiar with the incident told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
The New York City medical examiner’s office said in a statement on Aug. 16 that they had determined Epstein’s cause of death as suicide by hanging through an autopsy and other investigative information.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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