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Federal New York lockup draws new scrutiny in Epstein death

AP  |  New York 

The apparent suicide of Jeffrey Epstein has brought new scrutiny to a federal jail in New York that, despite chronic understaffing, houses some of the highest-security inmates in the country.

Epstein's death is also the latest black eye for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the jail's parent agency that already was under fire for the October death of Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, who was fatally beaten at a federal prison in West Virginia shortly after his arrival.

Taken together, the deaths underscore "serious issues surrounding a lack of leadership" within the BOP, said Cameron Lindsay, a former warden who ran three federal lockups, including the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

A defense attorney for Epstein, Marc Fernich, also faulted jail officials, saying they "recklessly put Mr Epstein in harm's way" and failed to protect him.

The Bureau of Prisons did not respond to repeated requests for details about Epstein's death. But Attorney General William Barr demanded answers, saying he was appalled by the apparent suicide and announcing a pair of federal inquiries by the FBI and the Justice Department's inspector general.

Epstein, 66, had pleaded not guilty to federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. His lawyers maintained the charges against him violated a non-prosecution agreement he signed over a decade ago.

Epstein's death brings fresh attention to the staffing at Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center, where shortages worsened by a partial government shutdown prompted inmates to stage a hunger strike in January after they were denied family and lawyer visits.

Eight months later, the lockup remains so short-staffed that the BOP is offering correctional officers a USD 10,000 bonus to transfer there from other federal lockups. That's on top of a so-called "recruitment incentive" that amounts to 10% of new guards' first-year salaries.

Staffing shortfalls are resulting in extreme overtime shifts, in which guards may work up to 16 hours a day. A person familiar with the jail's operations told The Associated Press that a guard in Epstein's unit was working a fifth straight day of overtime and another guard was working mandatory overtime the day he was found.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, August 12 2019. 21:25 IST