U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday removed Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, a little over one week after alleged child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein died in a New York City prison.
Hurwitz, who has been in his role since May 2018, has been reassigned in the Bureau of Prisons as the assistant director of department’s Reentry Services Division. Barr named Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, the prison agency’s director from 1992 until 2003, to replace Hurwitz. “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,” the nation’s chief legal officer said.
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 August 10th 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. Epstein was placed on the prison’s suicide watch list after he was believed to have attempted to take his own life on July 23rd. He was reportedly removed from the list days later.
Cameron Lindsay, a former warden who worked at several federal prisons, said he was shocked to learn of Epstein’s removal from the suicide list. “For them to pull him off suicide watch is shocking. For someone this high-profile, with these allegations and this many victims, who has had a suicide attempt in the last few weeks, you can take absolutely no chances. You leave him on suicide watch until he’s out of there,” Lindsay told NBC. “It’s too early to say what I think should happen, but if this did occur as we believe that it did, some staff are going to have some hard questions to answer.”
Epstein was facing charges of sex trafficking that stemmed from activities over a period of three years in the early 2000s. He served a 13-month prison sentence in Florida in 2008 after he was charged with similar offenses and was forced to register as a sex offender.
Federal prosecutors in New York are pursuing a parallel investigation into whether any of his associates will face charges for assisting him in what authorities say was his rampant sexual abuse of girls as young as 14.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.