MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Let's catch up now on what we know and what we don't about the circumstances of Jeffrey Epstein's death. This past weekend, the disgraced financier and convicted sex offender was found unresponsive in his jail cell - an apparent suicide. Since then, troubling details have emerged about the jail. Attorney General William Barr has opened an investigation. The warden has been reassigned, and two guards who were supposed to be monitoring Epstein have been placed on administrative leave.
Well, joining us now with the latest is Danielle Ivory of The New York Times.
And, Danielle, just what is the latest you have been able to learn about what was happening in that jail in the hours leading up to Epstein's death?
DANIELLE IVORY: Well, we have learned last night two staff members who were working in the special housing unit where Jeffrey Epstein apparently committed suicide - it looks like they may have been sleeping during their shift. They were supposed to be checking on Mr. Epstein and other inmates in the special housing unit every 30 minutes, but they were not doing those checks.
KELLY: These are the two guards I mentioned who have now been placed on leave.
IVORY: That's right. So one of them was a full-time correctional officer. The other one was actually not a correctional officer, although he was a former correctional officer. He was someone who had a different role in the prison now but had volunteered for overtime to get some extra pay as a correctional officer.
KELLY: You also reported that there is some evidence that they falsified records, saying, we checked on him, even though your reporting now shows that maybe they were asleep.
IVORY: We did hear that from three government officials - that it is thought that they falsified records to show that they had been checking every 30 minutes when, in fact, they had not.
KELLY: That would be a crime, right? - false entries in an official log.
IVORY: That could be a federal crime, yes.
KELLY: Have these two guards commented or has their union said anything?
IVORY: The two guards have not commented, as far as I know. I've heard from some union officials that they feel it's unfair that the staff members that were working as guards seem to be getting most of the blame for what happened. They think that management is culpable here as well.
KELLY: I know through your reporting and others that federal prisons across the country are suffering staffing shortages. Can you just speak briefly to what the pressure is on guards, including at this facility, to work overtime?
IVORY: Absolutely. So when we did the investigation about a year ago, we found that people were working incredible amounts of overtime - life-changing amounts, where they couldn't hold relationships together because they were working so much overtime. What happens when you're working in one of these federal prisons where staffing is short is that you might work an eight-hour shift as a correctional officer. And at the end of your shift, before you can leave, you're told, you need to work an eight-hour shift. And if you refuse, then you can be written up for it or be fired, so most people do not refuse. They do it. And then you go home, and you can only sleep for maybe, like, five hours. And then you have to go back to work. It's just not...
KELLY: But it does give some context to why guards - without justifying anything, explaining why guards might fall asleep.
IVORY: Exactly. You can understand how it's plausible for guards to fall asleep for several hours on the job without it being a conspiracy theory.
KELLY: It sounds like there were real problems in terms of the way that Jeffrey Epstein was being held. Is there anything you've been able to find in your reporting that suggests he was being treated in a different way from other people being held at this facility? Or does this speak to wider staffing problems or management problems at the correctional facility?
IVORY: It does seem to echo problems that I've seen at other federal facilities. It doesn't stand out to me, except that Jeffrey Epstein is such a high-profile figure. But there's been no evidence so far that I've seen that he was being treated...
KELLY: That he was being handled in a radically different way.
IVORY: Yes, exactly.
KELLY: That is Danielle Ivory of The New York Times.
Thank you so much for talking with us.
IVORY: All right. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.