News, Culture & Society

Sen John Kennedy says ‘American people’ deserve answers about Epstein’s death

Senator John Kennedy demanded that the head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons ‘tell the American people what happened’ surrounding the death of Jeffrey Epstein who killed himself while behind bars at one of the most secure jails in America. 

‘Christmas ornaments, drywall, and [Jeffrey] Epstein – name three things that don’t hang themselves. That’s what the American people think,’ Kennedy said, referring to the public’s skepticism that Epstein committed suicide. 

‘And they deserve some answers,’ the Louisiana Republican told Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, on Tuesday. 

Senator John Kennedy said Tuesday: ‘Christmas ornaments, drywall, and [Jeffrey] Epstein – name three things that don’t hang themselves. That’s what the American people think,’ Kennedy said, referring to the public’s skepticism that Epstein committed suicide

The Louisiana Republican was questioning Kathleen Hawk Sawyer (pictured), the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, on Tuesday when he made the remarks

The Louisiana Republican was questioning Kathleen Hawk Sawyer (pictured), the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, on Tuesday when he made the remarks 

For years, the federal Bureau of Prisons has been plagued by systematic failures, from massive staffing shortages to chronic violence. But the largest agency in the Justice Department has largely stayed out of the public view.

But the death of wealthy financier Epstein has cast a spotlight on the agency, which has also been besieged by serious misconduct in recent years. 

The issues at the Bureau of Prisons took center stage Tuesday as the agency’s new director, Hawk Sawyer, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Staffing shortages at the agency – it employs more than 35,000 people and has an annual budget that exceeds $7billion – are so severe that guards often work overtime day after day or are forced to work mandatory double shifts. 

Violence leads to regular lockdowns at federal prison compounds across the US, and a congressional report released earlier this year found ‘bad behavior is ignored or covered up on a regular basis’. 

At the same time, the Bureau of Prisons will be responsible for carrying out the first federal executions in more than 15 years, the first of which is scheduled for December 9.

Hawk Sawyer’s appearance before Congress came at the same time federal prosecutors in New York announced charges against correctional officers, Tova Noel, 31, and Michael Thomas, 41, who were responsible for guarding Epstein when he took his own life in August at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. 

The city’s medical examiner ruled Epstein’s death a suicide.

The death of wealthy financier Epstein has cast a spotlight on the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which has also been besieged by serious misconduct in recent years

The death of wealthy financier Epstein has cast a spotlight on the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which has also been besieged by serious misconduct in recent years

But earlier this month, Epstein’s brother, Mark, claimed that he believed the pedophile may have been murdered. 

Mark said his brother had unexplained cuts on his body that could not be explained by a jail cell hanging, and that his attempts to obtain a medical file have been thwarted at every turn.

The officers were charged with falsifying prison records to conceal they were sleeping and browsing the internet during the hours they were supposed to be keeping a close watch on prisoners.

Hawk Sawyer, who was also director from 1992 until 2003, said the agency has been ‘challenged significantly’ because of budget reductions. 

But since being named director in late August, she’s put a ‘great emphasis on filling vacancies,’ along with training employees and ensuring there´s a ‘re-commitment to sound correctional practice,’ she said.

The falsification of records has been a problem throughout the federal prison system. Union officials have long argued that the reduction of staff is putting both guards and inmates in danger, but they’ve faced an uphill battle as society seems to turn a blind eye.

Hawk Sawyer sent a memo to senior prison system officials that detailed how a review at facilities across the US had found some staff members failed to perform required rounds and inmate counts but logged that they had done so anyway.

Officials have identified ‘a few’ instances of guards who may have been sleeping and failed to conduct the required checks on inmates, she said, vowing to refer those cases to prosecutors for criminal punishment.

Epstein killed himself while behind bars at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (pictured) in New York, one of the most secure jails in America

Epstein killed himself while behind bars at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (pictured) in New York, one of the most secure jails in America

‘We have found a couple of other instances,’ she said. ‘We don’t want those people in the Bureau of Prisons. We do have some, I know, out there who chose not to follow policy and we want them gone.’

Across the board, the Bureau of Prisons has been down 4,000 jobs since 2017. Some officers are forced to work so much overtime that they skip going home between shift and sleep in their cars instead.

An Associated Press analysis of federal staffing found a sharp decline in correctional officers across the US in the first two years of the Trump administration.

Between December 2016 and September 2018 – the date of the most recent data available from the federal Office of Personnel Management – the number of correctional officers fell more than 11 per cent, from 19,082 to 16,898. 

That decline reversed a longtime trend. Before President Donald Trump took office, the number of federal correctional officers had continuously increased: there were 12.5 per cent more officers at the end of 2016 compared to the beginning of 2012.

Both officers who were guarding Epstein were working overtime because of staffing shortages. One of the guards, who did not primarily work as a correctional officer, was working a fifth straight day of overtime. The other guard was working mandatory overtime, meaning a second eight-hour shift of the day.

The decline in officer numbers reflects a larger personnel loss in the Bureau of Prisons, which saw its overall workforce decline roughly 10 per cent from the start of 2017 to late 2018, to 35,000 employees.

The AP analysis found that the Bureau of Prisons in 2017 and 2018 simply hadn’t hired enough new correctional officers to replace departing or retiring employees. 

Staffing numbers fell the most among people with less than two years’ experience, indicating few new employees were brought on after Trump took office.

By early 2018, there were only about 300 Bureau of Prisons correctional officers with less than a year of experience – compared with more than 2,200 employees with a year or less of experience in early 2017. 

In the three years preceding Trump’s presidency, the agency had an average of more than 2,000 of these rookie employees at any given time.

Figures from September 2018 showed the bureau had slightly ramped up some hiring and had 500 employees with less than a year of experience, but still had a long way to go to meet pre-Trump numbers.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk