MAKING A FEDERAL CASE OF IT: U.S. Attorney General William Barr has expressed outrage about how Jeffrey Epstein was able to apparently commit suicide in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Facility, aided by a lack of mandated half-hour checks by correction officers, but the lower Manhattan jail has long been the source of complaints about its maintenance, and union officials say staff shortages that have been compounded by a hiring freeze have left officers exhausted from excess overtime and sometimes disoriented.
The warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Jeffrey Epstein apparently killed himself Aug. 10, has been transferred and two Corrections Officers on duty that morning have been put on administrative leave after allegedly falsifying records to conceal that they fell asleep.
The two prison workers who were required to check on Mr. Epstein every 30 minutes did not observe him for three hours after dozing off and subsequently attempted to cover their tracks by falsifying the log entries, according to the New York Times.
Ex-Officer Out of Title
The Times reported that one of the officers was working mandatory overtime and that the second was a former Correction Officer, who had moved to a job not related to guarding inmates but was picking up extra overtime shifts in his old role.
The union that represents Corrections Officers who work at MCC has complained for years that the facility was so understaffed that it compromised the prison’s security.
The American Federation of Government Employees asserted that the officer shortage at the lower Manhattan facility, which has only 65 percent of its positions filled, is typical of the short-staffing across the country that’s gotten worse since President Trump took office.
‘Shortages Create Danger’
“For years, the Council of Prison Locals has been sounding the alarm about the hiring freeze instituted by President Trump in the Bureau of Prisons, the thousands of staff vacancies in our prisons that have resulted, and the dangerous conditions these staff shortages have created for workers and inmates in our federal prisons,” Eric Young, the president of the AFGE Council of Prison Locals, said in a statement.
The union has warned the Bureau of Prisons that its practice of pulling agency employees from civil-service titles including maintenance and health-care jobs to fill out the officer roster posed a serious risk to staff and inmate safety.
Serene Gregg, president of AFGE Local 3148, which represents the MCC workforce, said in an interview that her members were being forced to work excessive hours and three or four overtime shifts a week despite the risk to their health.
Studies have found that such overtime can result in workers functioning in an altered state equivalent to being intoxicated.
Exhausted by Workload
“We have employees report to us that during their commutes to and from work, they are falling asleep behind the wheel,” Ms. Gregg said. “They start driving on the left side of the highway and they wake up on the right side of the highway.”
She added that if her members attempt to raise the issue of exhaustion to avoid some overtime, they risk reprisals from managers that include being referred for penalties that can include termination.
The circumstances surrounding Mr. Epstein’s death and how the facility handled his apparent July 23 attempt on his own life are now the subject of investigations by the FBI, the Department of Justice Inspector General, the Bureau of Prisons and the House Judiciary Committee.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement, "Mr. Epstein's death raises serious questions that must be answered."
Mr. Barr had recused himself from the Southern district's case against Mr. Epstein because his former law firm had worked on a previous case he had on sex trafficking in 2008.
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