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U.S. attorney general shakes up prisons bureau after Epstein death

U.S. attorney general shakes up prisons bureau after Epstein death
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr is pictured after a farewell ceremony for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo -
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Leah Millis(Reuters)
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday announced a new leadership team at the federal Bureau of Prisons in a shake-up of the agency in the wake of financier Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide inside a federal jail in New York City.

Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, a veteran of the Bureau of Prisons, will return to the agency to serve as its director, Barr said. He named another former agency official, Thomas Kane, to serve as her deputy.

The Bureau of Prisons has about 37,000 employees and oversees 122 facilities, which house about 180,000 inmates.

Hugh Hurwitz, who has been serving as the bureau’s acting director – including when Epstein was found unresponsive over a week ago in a Manhattan jail cell – has been reassigned to his prior position within the agency.

Epstein had been arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14.

An autopsy report released on Friday concluded he committed suicide by hanging.

His death at the age of 66 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan triggered multiple investigations and had prompted Barr to criticize “serious irregularities” at the facility.

“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.

Barr had previously ordered the reassignment of the warden at the MCC. Two corrections officers assigned to Epstein’s unit were placed on administrative leave pending investigations.

Lawyers for Epstein did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

His lawyers had said in a statement last week that they were “not satisfied” with the medical examiner’s conclusions and planned to carry out their own investigation, seeking prison videos taken around the time of his death.

Epstein had been on suicide watch at the jail but was taken off prior to his death, a source who was not authorized to speak on the matter previously told Reuters. Two jail guards are required to make separate checks on all prisoners every 30 minutes, but that procedure was not followed, the source added.

Epstein, a registered sex offender who once socialized with U.S. President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton, pleaded guilty in 2008 to Florida state charges of unlawfully paying a teenage girl for sex and was sentenced to 13 months in a county jail, a deal widely criticized as too lenient.

Senator Ben Sasse, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee, has urged Barr to void the agreement and said “heads must roll” after Epstein’s death.

“This is a good start, but it’s not the end,” Sasse said of Barr’s announcement on Tuesday. “Jeffrey Epstein should still be in a padded cell and under constant surveillance, but the justice system has failed Epstein’s victims at every turn.”

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Dan Grebler and Steve Orlofsky)

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