US federal prisons chief replaced after Epstein suicide

Jeffrey Epstein reportedly killed himself at the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center on Aug 10 as he faced child trafficking charges. (Reuters pic)

WASHINGTON: US attorney general Bill Barr announced the replacement of the head of federal prisons Monday in the wake of the shock jail-cell suicide of Jeffrey Epstein as he faced child sex trafficking charges.

Barr said he was appointing Kathleen Hawk Sawyer as director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, replacing Hugh Hurwitz who served as acting director for the past 15 months.

Hawk Sawyer, a veteran prison psychologist, has served as the director of the bureau before: she was appointed to the position in 1992 by Barr, who was attorney general at the time, and held the job until 2003.

Her appointment comes nine days after Epstein, a financier who circulated in powerful political circles, killed himself in the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center while he was supposedly under close monitoring following an earlier suicide attempt.

Epstein, 66, had been charged with sex trafficking of minors, a case that grew out of reports that he had been treated extremely lightly when he was arrested in Florida in 2006 for sex acts with underage girls.

In that case, he ultimately pleaded guilty to a state charge of soliciting prostitution with a minor and was sentenced to 18 months in jail, most of which was spent outside the prison on a work-release program.

His suicide on Aug 10 sparked outrage that he was again escaping justice, and his friendships over the years with influential people such as president Donald Trump and former president Bill Clinton fuelled numerous conspiracy theories.

But a New York coroner ruled that Epstein hung himself in his cell.

Citing “serious irregularities,” Barr quickly reassigned the warden of the New York prison and two guards were placed on leave.

It was the second high-profile prison death in the federal system in one year.

In October 2018, notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was beaten to death at a prison in West Virginia, one day after he was transferred to the high-security facility to serve the remainder of his life sentence.