AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File
- Jeffrey Epstein died by apparent suicide over the weekend while being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City.
- The federal prison has long faced scrutiny for inhumanely treating inmates, with one former prisoner describing MCC as "worse than Guantanamo Bay."
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New York City's Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Jeffrey Epstein died by apparent suicide early Saturday morning, has long been criticized for inhumanely treating inmates.
The prison is now facing new scrutiny for apparently not following protocols the night of Epstein's death, with The New York Times reporting that guards failed to check on him every 30 minutes and kept him alone in his cell — violating an arrangement put in place after he was put on suicide watch last month. A person familiar with the jail's operations told The Associated Press on Sunday that guards in Epstein's unit were working extreme overtime shifts to make up for staffing shortages.
The FBI and Department of Justice announced that they will be launching investigations into the situation surrounding Epstein's death, which has sparked uproar among lawmakers and others who question how the convicted sex offender could have died by suicide within a facility operated by the federal Bureau of Prisons.
This isn't the first time, however, that the facility has been the subject of condemnation. An inmate once said the MCC was "worse than Guantanamo Bay," describing the latter as "more pleasant" and "more relaxed," according to documents obtained by the New York Daily News.
The prison has housed people such as Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, Bernard Madoff, and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who was behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
A 2018 investigation by Gothamist revealed that the MCC is known for filthy conditions, vermin infestations, substandard medical care, and violence and abuse by guards. Melvin Rodriguez, a former prisoner said "they mentally break you."
Inmates described mice gnawing away at their food and rats so big "they were more like roommates"; dozens of men being expected to share one toilet, sink, and shower, with a 2015 lawsuit alleging that when the toilets broke down the men were given bags to defecate in; an instance in which prison staff tried to cover up an incident involving an inmate who was beaten to death; and a former correctional officer who was found guilty of raping a women detained at the facility.
"If I described these conditions to you—filthy, freezing, no natural light, isolation so extreme that you're punished for speaking through the walls, absurd rules like prisoners not getting to see the newspapers unless they're 30 days old, secrecy so deep that people are force-fed and lawyers can be punished for describing the conditions their clients are experiencing—you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was Iran or Russia," Jeanne Theoharis, a Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College, told Gothamist. "But in fact this gulag exists right here in lower Manhattan."
When MCC first opened its doors in 1975, it was created to hold 474 inmates, according to Gothamist. But, today, almost 800 people are being kept at the overcrowded facility.
A former special monitor on torture and punishment for the United Nations described the conditions within "10 South," a special housing unit where inmates are held in solitary confinement, as "a punitive measure that is unworthy of the United States as a civilized democracy," while Amnesty International characterized "the combined effects of prolonged confinement to sparse cells with little natural light, no outdoor exercise and extreme social isolation amount[ing] to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
Conditions in "10 South" include lights that are kept on 23 or 24 hours a day and frosted glass windows so inmates cannot see the outside world, prompting some prisoners to even request eyeglasses for deteriorating eyesight, The New York Times reported.
"The segregated units are horrifying and inhumane," David Patton, the executive director of Federal Defenders of New York, an organization that provides low cost or free legal help to people charged with federal crimes, told the Times. "If you wanted to intentionally design a place to drive people mad, you'd be hard-pressed to do better."
While Epstein's death means that he cannot be prosecuted in criminal court over sex trafficking allegations, criminal charges may still be brought against his associates.
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