Why Wasn’t Jeffrey Epstein on Suicide Watch When He Died?

Like all federal prisons, the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan has a suicide prevention program designed for inmates who are at risk of taking their own lives.

After an apparent attempt three weeks ago, Jeffrey Epstein — the financier who was at the facility awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused dozens of girls — was placed on suicide watch and received daily psychiatric evaluations, a person familiar with his detention said.

But just six days later, on July 29, Mr. Epstein, 66, was taken off the watch for reasons that remained unclear on Saturday, the person said. Twelve days after that, he hanged himself. Guards making their morning rounds discovered his body at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, the Bureau of Prisons said.

Mr. Epstein’s suicide, coming shortly after prison officials in Manhattan deemed he was no longer at risk of taking his own life, raises questions about the steps prison officials took to keep him alive and ensure he would face his accusers in court.

The Justice Department immediately faced a backlash from elected officials and the public. Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska on the Senate’s Judiciary committee, said in a letter to the Justice Department that it was inexcusable that Mr. Epstein had not been under a 24-hour watch. “These victims deserved to face their serial abuser in court,” he wrote.

Attorney General William P. Barr said in a statement that he “was appalled to learn” about Mr. Epstein’s death in federal custody, and had asked the inspector general for the Justice Department to open an investigation into how it happened.

“Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered,” he said. “In addition to the F.B.I.’s investigation, I have consulted with the Inspector General, who is opening an investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Epstein’s death.”

The federal Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to requests for information about its decision that Mr. Epstein was no longer a suicide risk.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center houses about 800 people awaiting either trial or sentencing in New York City, and over the years its inmates have included high-profile terrorists, white-collar criminals and organized crime figures.

Mr. Epstein had been held there since his arrest on July 6 on federal charges that he sexually abused and trafficked girls in the early 2000s. Judge Richard M. Berman of Federal District Court had denied him bail, rejecting his request to be detained at his Upper East Side mansion as he awaited trial.

One federal prison official with knowledge of the incident confirmed Mr. Epstein had been taken off suicide watch recently and was being held alone in a cell in a special housing unit. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of being fired, said guards found Mr. Epstein in an otherwise empty cell during morning rounds. He had hanged himself and he appeared to be dead.

It would have been extremely difficult for Mr. Epstein to harm himself had he still been on suicide watch, a second prison official said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of dismissal.

Inmates on suicide watch are generally placed in a special observation cell, surrounded with windows, with a bolted down bed and no bedclothes, the official said. A correction officer — or sometimes a fellow inmate trained to be a “suicide companion” — is typically assigned to sit in an adjacent office and monitor the inmate constantly.

Robert Gangi, an expert on prisons and the former executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, said guards also generally take shoelaces and belts away from people on suicide watch. “It’s virtually impossible to kill yourself,” Mr. Gangi said.

Inmates can only be removed from the watch when the program coordinator, who is generally the chief psychologist at the facility, deems they are no longer at imminent risk for suicide, according a 2007 Bureau of Prison document outlining suicide prevention policies. The inmates cannot be removed from the watch without a face-to-face psychological evaluation.

To take an inmate off suicide watch, a “post-watch report” needs to be completed, which includes an analysis of how the inmate’s circumstances have changed and why that merits removal from the watch, the document said.

Under Bureau of Prison regulations, the government’s jails and prisons must have one or more rooms designed for housing an inmate on suicide watch, and the rooms must allow staff members to control the inmate without compromising their ability to observe and protect him. Every prison facility is required to have a suicide prevention program.

Suicide prevention cells must provide an “unobstructed view of the inmate” and “may not have fixtures or architectural features that would easily allow self-injury,” according to a Bureau of Prisons policy.

The prison or jail staff members are supposed to operate in shifts to keep the inmate under constant observation and to keep a log of the person’s behavior, according to federal regulations. The inmate is only supposed to be removed from the watch when he or she “is no longer at imminent risk for suicide,” the regulations say.

On July 23, Mr. Epstein was lying unconscious in a cell he shared with another inmate, with bruises on his neck. Law enforcement officials at the time said his injuries were not serious, but the incident was investigated as a possible suicide.

Before that incident, the former financier had been housed in a cell with Nicholas Tartaglione, a former police officer facing murder charges. Their cell was in a special unit with strict security measures that is used to separate some inmates from the general population.

‘We need answers. Lots of them.’ What’s known and what’s next after Jeffrey Epstein’s death

Jeffrey Epstein, the multimillionaire financier indicted on federal sex-trafficking charges, died after he was discovered unresponsive from an “apparent suicide” on Saturday morning in a federal detention center in Manhattan. His death has raised questions about the investigation and its political implications.

What happens to the case now?

Epstein’s death comes a day after new documents pertaining to his global sex-trafficking ring were unsealed in court filings on Friday.

On Saturday, Attorney General William P. Barr said that he was “appalled” after hearing about the suspect’s death and that many questions would need to be answered, according to a Justice Department statement. Barr said he “consulted with the Inspector General who is opening an investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Epstein’s death.”

Epstein was placed on suicide watch last month but then taken off within about a week, a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity told The Washington Post. But he was subject to higher security in a special housing unit.

Because Epstein is dead, the criminal case is over, but that doesn’t mean all investigations surrounding the allegations will cease, said Paul Butler, a professor of law at Georgetown University and former federal prosecutor.

He said investigators may now turn to others who were accused of being involved with the sex-trafficking activities. According to Butler, this is partly because accusers feel they haven’t received justice.

“Even though the criminal prosecution of Mr. Epstein ended this morning, there remained questions about co-conspirators,” Butler said.

Attorneys representing some accusers said they will continue to seek justice.

There’s a whole network that enabled him and allowed this to happen, and it’s time that everyone who was a part of this be held accountable,” said Kimberly Lerner, an attorney for one of Epstein’s accusers.

Jennifer Araoz, Lerner’s client and one of the women who has accused Epstein, said in a statement that she and others will have to “live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed — the pain and trauma he caused so many people.”

“Epstein is gone, but justice must still be served. I hope the authorities will pursue and prosecute his accomplices and enablers, and ensure redress for his victims,” Araoz said.

Brad Edwards, a lawyer who represents some of the other alleged victims said: “The fact that Jeffrey Epstein was able to commit the selfish act of taking his own life as his world of abuse, exploitation, and corruption unraveled is both unfortunate and predictable. While he and I engaged in contentious legal battles for more than a decade, this is not the ending anyone was looking for. The victims deserved to see Epstein held accountable, and he owed it to everyone he hurt to accept responsibility for all of the pain he caused.”

How are lawmakers reacting?

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle reacted to Saturday’s news with frustration and sadness. Reactions were especially strong from New York and Florida, where Epstein had residences and allegations were made.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted: “We need answers. Lots of them.”

Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) said the “victims have once again been denied their day in court.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said in a statement on Saturday: “The victims of Jeffrey Epstein’s heinous actions deserved an opportunity for justice. Today, that opportunity was denied to them. The Federal Bureau of Prisons must provide answers on what systemic failures of the MCC Manhattan or criminal acts allowed this coward to deny justice to his victims.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said in a statement on Saturday: “The victims of Jeffrey Epstein’s heinous actions deserved an opportunity for justice. Today, that opportunity was denied to them. The Federal Bureau of Prisons must provide answers on what systemic failures of the MCC Manhattan or criminal acts allowed this coward to deny justice to his victims.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) said on Twitter he couldn’t “even begin to imagine how many horrific secrets this sick perv is taking to the grave.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) wrote in a letter to Barr: “Every single person in the Justice Department — from your Main Justice headquarters staff all the way to the night-shift jailer — knew that this man was a suicide risk, and that his dark secrets couldn’t be allowed to die with him. Given Epstein’s previous attempted suicide, he should have been locked in a padded room under unbroken, 24/7, constant surveillance. Obviously, heads must roll.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) tweeted he was “pleased the @TheJusticeDept Inspector General and FBI will be investigating. There are many questions that need to be answered in this case.”

On Saturday afternoon, Trump retweeted conspiracy theories that blamed the Clintons for Epstein’s death. Earlier in the day, Trump appointee Lynn Patton, an administrator at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), similarly targeted Hillary Clinton in an Instagram post.

What do we know about the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Epstein was found dead?

The Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan has held various criminals, ranging from Bernard Madoff, who orchestrated an enormous Ponzi scheme, to notorious drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. In June, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was moved to the MCC, The Post reported.

According to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, an al-Qaeda conspirator, the prison at Guantanamo Bay was “more pleasant” and “more relaxed” than the federal facility, the New York Times reported in 2010.

What do we know about suicide in jail?

Suicide is the most common cause of death in jails, where 50 of every 100,000 inmates died by suicide in 2014 — a rate 3.5 times that of the general population, the Associated Press reported. High rates of addicted and mentally ill people behind bars are believed to contribute to the problem, as well as possible poor treatment of inmates and the stress of being incarcerated.

Among the most high-profile inmate suicides in recent years is the death of Sandra Bland, a Texas woman whom police say they pulled over in July 2015 because she failed to signal while she changed lanes. Authorities said Bland, 28, hanged herself within three days of being arrested on a charge of assaulting an officer.

In the year after Bland’s death, at least 815 people died by suicide in U.S. jails, HuffPost reported. Suicides accounted for nearly one-third of the jail deaths counted by the news organization, which said its numbers were incomplete because of lack of access to data.

Former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein said Saturday on Twitter that preventing self-harm by people accused of pedophilia is difficult. A report in the journal Federal Probation that he posted says defendants charged with sex crimes often experience suicidal ideation because of shame and the likelihood of a prison sentence.

The report cites a suicide prevention program in the Central District of California that involves a psychological assessment, support group sessions, cognitive behavioral therapy, lessons on healthy coping skills and education about the federal prison system. None of the 100 defendants that had gone through the program when the report was released had died by suicide.

In addition to whether a defendant is a flight risk and the likelihood that they will commit criminal activity, the report said, judges should consider the risk of suicide when deciding whether to grant someone pretrial release.