But Don’t Let My Cynicism Get in the Way of a Good Conspiracy Theory
I know it is much more fun to run with political theater, but, most likely, the Mr. Epstein’s death was actually a suicide. I am not saying it is impossible that he could have been killed, only that such a result is unlikely given the facts.
Many of you will be shocked to hear this. Especially after a full day of the media going crazy about this story. But, it is my opinion, that this is a prison acting like it always acts, not a group of rogue agents carrying out a conspiracy at the command of nefarious but powerful actors.
Don’t feel bad, earlier today I felt the same way you did. When early reports suggested that Mr. Epstein had been on “suicide watch” and had committed suicide, that raised a lot of red flags for me. When I was incarcerated, I was on both suicide watch and kept in solitary for a short period of time. I have actually seen how this happens up close. When I was on suicide watch, I was held in a plexiglass cell, in front of a 24/7 observation deck. I was literally watched every second of every day. I wore what is called a “Bam Bam” suit which is designed specifically so that you can’t use it to commit suicide. I was given one “suicide blanket” again specifically designed so that it cannot be used in a suicide.
There is only one problem, Mr. Epstein was NOT on suicide watch. As CNN (among others) reported today:
“Just weeks ago, Epstein was temporarily placed on a suicide watch after he was found July 23 in his Manhattan jail cell with marks on his neck, a law enforcement source and a source familiar with the incident told CNN at the time. It was not clear in July to jail officials if those injuries, which were not serious, were self-inflicted or the result of an assault, the sources said. Epstein told authorities he was beaten up and called a child predator, they said. Daily psychological assessments were conducted on him, and at the end of the month, psychologists with the Bureau of Prisons took him off suicide watch, according to a source familiar with the matter.”
Once Mr. Epstein was released from suicide watch, because his was a high-profile case and because his life would be at risk if placed in the general prison population, he would have been placed in protective custody in a single-person cell. While he was in protective custody, he would be checked on by a correctional officer once every thirty minutes. During that time he would have plenty of opportunity to do harm to himself. If he were planning suicide there would not have been anyone to stop him.
At the federal level if you are separated from the general population, you can be placed in protective custody in a segregated housing unit (SHU), this is a stand-in for what we know more commonly as at the state level as solitary confinement. If Mr. Epstein had been placed in SHU but not in protective custody, he would have likely been in a two-person cell and had even less supervision. However, it is not rare for high profile people in prison to be placed in protective custody and it is sadly not rare for people to do harm to themselves when in forms of solitary confinement.
I do think a few fair questions remain, first, why in the world was Mr. Epstein released from solitary?
Most of the experts being quoted are suggesting that because Mr. Epstein was so high profile they would have been unlikely to take him off suicide watch. However, I don’t think the Bureau of Prisons is exactly known for treating folks with care. As Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums and a former federal prisoners, put it earlier today on Twitter:
Also, as NBC News noted, removing someone from suicide watch quickly is not exactly unheard of:
“Jack Donson, a former longtime federal Bureau of Prisons case manager, told NBC News that suicide watch in federal lockup “usually only lasts a few days to week” due to the amount of manpower the 24-hour surveillance entails.”It requires staff to do overtime shifts,” Donson said, and is “not considered a good use of resources.” Federal staff members will “make an assessment” about when they believe that “imminent danger” to the inmate has passed, and then the warden and chief psychologist make a determination about what to do with the inmate, Donson said. Epstein had been placed in the MCC’s Special Housing Unit instead of general population for his own safety, given his notoriety, and Donson noted that incidents of suicide are higher in the SHU. “You’re isolated with your own thoughts,” he said, “and it’s not as monitored and supervised.” Guards are supposed to check on prisoners every 30 minutes, but sometimes aren’t diligent about doing so, Donson said, and regardless, inmates “can do themselves a lot of harm in 30 minutes.”
I do think it would be fair to have a long discussion with the doctors who took Mr. Epstein off of suicide watch. It is not impossible something fishy happened here and I could totally be wrong and foul play was afoot. My gut tells me this is just a prison being a prison.
Most of what happened was sadly fairly normal. There are around 80,000 people in some form of solitary at any time in the United States and suicide rates for folks in solitary are very high. My hope is that what we learn from this situation is not as much about Mr. Epstein as it is about every single other person who is stuck alone in a cage for 23 hours a day. What should shock us is how people in distress are regularly treated by prison administrations and not that one person was treated poorly. For once, in this case, it seems like the high-profile rich person in prison was treated a lot like most everyone else is treated by the prison system.
Second, I think it is fair to ask if such a high profile prisoner would be treated in such a cavalier manner. I mean it is not the first time this has happened (see Whitey Bulger). In addition, this is standard practice for high-profile cases (recently El Chapo was housed at MCC Manhattan as well):
“Brandon Sample, a defense attorney and sentencing-reform advocate, told Bloomberg that Epstein is likely assigned to a room no larger than 100 square feet, with only a bed, toilet with an attached sink, and a desk. MCC, which sits two blocks from Manhattan’s City Hall and three blocks from the Brooklyn Bridge, was criticized last year by human rights groups who told Gothamist that it was filthy, rat-invested, and lacking medical care. Human rights groups said inmates are subjected to violence and abuse at the hands of guards. According to Bloomberg, high-profile inmates are usually held in 10 South, where they spend 23 hours a day inside their cells with an hour of daily exercise in an indoor recreation center.”
I mean I get it, this whole episode does seem highly sketchy and it is possible that I am just being cynical and contrary.
Even if you ultimately decide that I am wrong, I hope you will consider the plight of the tens of thousands of people in solitary confinement in this country.
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