Staffing shortages and unsafe measures to make up the daily work schedules at a New York prison may have created the circumstances for accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide, according to a union that represents federal prison workers.

The Department of Justice reported Aug. 10 that the wealthy financier was found dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal prison center in New York City, early Saturday morning.

Officials from the American Federation of Government Employees blame the Bureau of Prisons’ systemic understaffing for enabling the suicide.

“The hiring freeze instituted by the Trump administration in 2017 directly led to staffing shortages throughout BOP that are so severe that BOP facilities across the nation are regularly using a process called ‘augmentation’ that allows teachers, nurses, clerical workers and other support staff to fill in for correctional officers,” said AFGE Council of Prison Locals President Eric Young in a statement.

“The low pay, understaffing, augmentation and mandatory overtime have created an environment inside our prisons where something like this is even possible. Despite all this, the administration continues, year after year, to put forth budget proposals that would further underfund BOP and exacerbate the strains we’re already seeing.”

U.S. Attorney General William Barr appeared to lay the blame at the feet of MCC’s management as well, saying that he was “appalled” by the facility’s failures in remarks at a Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police event in New Orleans Aug. 12.

“We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and that demand a thorough investigation,” Barr said.

“The FBI and the Office of Inspector General are already doing just that. We will get to the bottom of what happened at the MCC and we will hold people accountable for this failure.”

CNN reported that the two guards monitoring the unit where Epstein was held were on overtime at the time of his apparent suicide.

The number of employees working in the New York area has dropped noticeably during the Trump administration.

According to employee data collected by the Office of Personnel Management, the number of BOP staff located in New York has dropped from 549 in early 2017 to 487 in March 2018, the most recent data collected by the agency.

The change constituted a nearly 10 percent drop in staff in just one year.

As recently as July 30, the MCC facility itself was trying to bring on more staff, offering a 10 percent bonus for correctional officers hired at a job fair on that date.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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