Attorney General William Barr has removed the acting director of the Prison Bureau from office more than a week after millionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein killed himself while in federal custody.
Hugh Hurwitz’s reassignment on Monday, Aug. 19, is surrounded by growing proof that chronically understaffed Metropolitan Correctional Center’s ward of accountability for preventing the 66-year-old from committing suicide while waiting for a trial on charges of sexually abusing young girls.
Barr appointed Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, director of the prison agency from 1992 to 2003, to replace Hurwitz. Hurwitz moves on as a deputy responsible for the re-entry programs, where he will work with Barr in implementing the First Step Act, a criminal justice overhaul, according to The Associated Press.
The office has been under close scrutiny since Epstein’s death, with lawmakers and Barr demanding answers as to how Epstein was left unchecked and could take his own life on Aug. 10 while in one of America’s safest federal jails.
In a statement for the reassignment, Barr said last week that officials had uncovered “serious irregularities” and was angry that staff at the jail had failed to “adequately secure this prisoner.”
He ordered the office last Tuesday to reassign the guard Lamine N’Diaye temporarily to a regional office and the two guards watching Epstein on administrative leave.
These Epstein guards failed to check on him every half hour and, according to several individuals familiar with the matter, are suspected of fake log entries. Both guards worked extra time because of the staff shortage, the individuals said.
Several people familiar with prison operations say that after about a week Epstein was taken off the suicide watch and returned to a high security housing unit, where the watch had not been closely monitored but was still to be checked every 30 minutes.
Hurwitz is a longtime officer who joined the office in 1998; he has served in the Education Department, the Food and Drug Administration, and worked as Inspector General of NASA; he was returned to the prison agency in 2015 and then Prosecutor General Jeff Sessions was appointed acting director in 2018.
Hurwitz was responsible for overseeing 122 facilities, 37,000 staff members, and about 184,000 inmates as office director.
Hawk Sawyer was the first woman to lead the agency and held a number of jobs there for almost 27 years. She worked as a psychologist at a federal correctional facility in West Virginia, served as an associate warden and then as a warden at other facilities, and was eventually nominated to lead the agency during Barr’s first stint as attorney general in the early 1990s.
“Under Dr. Hawk Sawyer’s previous tenure at the bureau, she led the agency with excellence, innovation, and efficiency, receiving numerous awards for her outstanding leadership,” Barr said in a statement.
Barr also named Thomas Kane, a longtime bureau employee who has held a variety of leadership roles, as the deputy director.
Includes reporting from the Associated Press