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Locked Up

Epstein Killed Himself, With the Help of a Broken and Neglectful Federal Prison System

Incompetence, violence and death in New York's federal jails don't require imaginative explanation—they're commonplace.

5:29 PM EDT on June 29, 2023

A picture of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan

The Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan, where Jeffrey Epstein died (Flickr / Prison Insight)

Contrary to what you may have read in some dark corners of the internet, Jeffrey Epstein wasn't killed by Clinton-world operatives or Rothschild assassins or agents of the pedophile deep state. He died by suicide in 2019 because the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), the New York City federal jail where he was being held, was incredibly poorly run, and many of the people who worked there and were charged with keeping him safe and alive failed miserably at their jobs. 

That's the upshot of a new report released Tuesday by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, whose findings buttress a great deal of reporting in the wake of Epstein's death. And while it will be disappointing for red-yarn-and-thumbtacks enthusiasts looking for evidence that Epstein didn't kill himself, the report's depiction of federal jail conditions is arguably more disturbing than the darkest QAnon theories — the report found that incompetence and disregard for human life at the MCC is so systemic that even high-profile celebrities in custody are mortally neglected.

Much of what's contained in the OIG report has already been reported in the years since Epstein's death: Epstein's unsuccessful suicide attempt weeks earlier; the failure of jail officials to keep Epstein supplied with a cellmate to prevent another attempt, as psychologists recommended; guards' failures to make mandatory rounds to check on Epstein; supervisors' failures to visit the unit throughout.

Less sexy but more disturbing than a secret assassination plot is the reality that the circumstances that led to Epstein's death are endemic to New York City's federal jails, which are chronically incapable of keeping the people in their custody safe and alive. 

"This is not the first time the OIG has found significant job performance and management failures on the part of BOP personnel and widespread disregard of BOP policies that are designed to ensure that inmates are safe, secure, and in good health," the inspector general wrote.

The DOJ watchdog isn't the only one frustrated by repeated and ongoing neglect and inhumanity at New York's federal jails. Colleen McMahon, who was until 2021 the chief judge of the Southern District of New York, excoriated both the MCC and the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn in remarks from the bench in 2021. 

"The single thing in the five years that I was chief judge of this court that made me the craziest was my complete and utter inability to do anything meaningful about the conditions at the MCC, especially at the MCC and the MDC, two federal correctional facilities located in the City of New York that are run by morons, which wardens cycle [through] repeatedly, never staying for longer than a few months or even a year," McMahon said at a sentencing hearing. "There is no continuity, there is no leadership, there is no ability to get anything done. They lurch from crisis to crisis, from the gun smuggling to Jeffrey Epstein."

Two years after Epstein's death, the BOP shuttered the MCC altogether, citing massive infrastructure problems with the prison, and moved everyone held there to other nearby federal facilities, mostly to the MDC in Sunset Park.

Federal defendants facing trial in New York City are now held across the East River at the MDC in Sunset Park, a facility that has seen its own catastrophic failures in recent years, including the loss of heat and hot water during a stretch of sub-zero weather in 2020. The jail has a history of sexual abuse by guards; units are awash in drugs, which are frequently brought in by guards; and six people incarcerated there have died by suicide in the past five years.

"I read the Epstein report to paint the exact same picture as what I see at MDC every day and have seen for years," said Deirdre Von Dornum, the attorney in charge for the Eastern District for the Federal Defenders of New York, which represents people held at MDC. "It's offensive to me that it's getting so much attention when MDC has had six suicides just in five years, and Epstein was the only suicide at MCC in 20 years. Nobody cares about our indigent clients who kill themselves."

The dire maintenance issues that finally led to the closing of the MCC aren't unusual either. According to a separate OIG report on crumbling prison infrastructure from May, the problem of deferred maintenance and shoddy facilities is widespread throughout the federal prison system, owing to the fact that the Bureau of Prisons neither asks for enough funding from Congress to properly maintain its facilities, nor does it have a coherent strategy for making use of the maintenance funds it does receive. By the bureau's own estimate, there are some $2 billion in unfunded repairs and modernizations for its jails and prisons.

"We did not see evidence that the BOP has a strategic approach for determining whether to rehabilitate or permanently close a non-operating location," the inspector general wrote in his report.

The MCC sits empty in the heart of Lower Manhattan, and is still on the BOP's list of facilities. What's going on with the prison? The Bureau of Prisons didn't respond to questions, but according to the DOJ inspector general's May report, the answer is: nothing. The BOP estimates it would cost about $230 million to bring the MCC back on line. They don't have that money, and they haven't even asked for it in recent budget proposals. Nevertheless, BOP officials told the inspector general, the bureau does intend to reopen the MCC New York someday.

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