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Barr’s Prison Bureau band-aid

2019-08-20

Acting Bureau of Prisons Director Hugh Hurwitz speaks during a press conference at the Justice Department July 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Attorney General William Barr’s Monday removal of acting Bureau of Prisons director Hugh Hurwitz following millionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide in a federal lockup is a flimsy band-aid on the plague sore that is our federal prison system.

Removing Hugh Hurwitz won’t change the fact that Epstein was being watched by just two guards, both working overtime, one of whom wasn’t even a regular corrections officer, and that both fell asleep on duty, giving accused child sexual abuser Epstein enough time to hang himself and escape the justice he deserved.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr Attorney removed the acting Bureau of Prisons director Hugh Hurwitz following millionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide in a federal prison.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr Attorney removed the acting Bureau of Prisons director Hugh Hurwitz following millionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide in a federal prison. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Hugh Hurwitz wasn’t responsible for the prison guard shortage the Trump Administration helped create with budget cuts and a federal hiring freeze two years ago.

Too few guards for too many inmates is a dangerous cocktail, one prison employees say has fueled an increase in assaults on guards, and worse. Systemic prison guard shortages mean that extra supervision for inmates like Epstein, who was placed on suicide watch after an earlier attempt, often lasts less than a week, because it requires too much manpower.

Hugh Hurwitz, “acting director," isn’t responsible for the fact the federal agency has been without a confirmed leader since March 2018. His departure won’t fill the unacceptable number of vacancies and “acting” officials among the Prisons Bureau’s leadership. Hurwitz may leave, but his departure won’t end inmate suicides in federal lockup. For that, the buck should stop with Bill Barr and his boss, Donald Trump.