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Ghislaine Maxwell was forced to swap her luxurious, secluded, New Hampshire estate for a small cell in Brooklyn‘s 'notorious' federal prison when she was arrested as an alleged accomplice to sex predator Jeffrey Epstein - and the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) has quite a reputation.
“It’s notorious. It’s not funded very well, none of the federal prisons are. There’s a shortage of guards and of staff,” Michael Frantz, director of Jail Time Consulting, told The Independent.
His organisation, a federal prison consulting firm, represents inmates in all 209 federal prisons across the United States, including MDC – which is where Maxwell, 58, is expected to remain until her trial in July 2021 after a federal judge denied her bail this week.
“In my opinion, it’s not one of the best federal prisons around and a lot of guard-related incidents occur,” Mr Frantz added. “It’s not the cleanest place in the world. I don’t think it is well run at all. And [Maxwell’s] life is going to basically be hell there.”
A lawsuit in 2019 alleged a “humanitarian crisis” was unfolding at the prison after a power failure resulted in prisoners experiencing frigid temperatures for multiple days. MDC has also faced problems recently with inmates testing positive for the coronavirus.
The 1,600-inmate prison, which houses both male and female inmates, is divided into four security levels depending on the prisoners’ crimes: minimum, low, medium, and high.
High-profile inmates include rapper R Kelly and Pharma bro Martin Shkreli, both of whom were transferred elsewhere, as well as Donald Trump‘s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who was put back into federal custody last week after breaking house arrest.
Maxwell, now joining the ranks of MDC’s notable inmates, was arrested on charges of allegedly helping Epstein recruit, groom, and sexually abuse minors as young as 14. Based on the charges, Mr Frantz said she would likely be held either at the medium or high security level area during her time in MDC.
“That’s where the gangs are, the rapes, the beatings, the stabbings, the violence. That’s where all that stuff occurs,” he said.
Security is one major concern for Maxwell, as the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) does not want another high-profile inmate to have a similar fate to that of Epstein.
The financier was held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan in July 2019 while awaiting his trial.
Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, he was able to commit suicide in his jail cell and was pronounced dead on 10 August without ever standing trial for his alleged crimes. The circumstances of his death, given the potential information he had on other powerful people, has launched a federal investigation and left a black stain on the BOP.
A law enforcement source told the New York Post that prison officials at MDC were determined to avoid similar outcomes for Maxwell.
“They want to make sure she’ll stand trial,” the source said.
The BOP has not released information about Maxwell’s day-to-day life at MDC. But she’s reportedly received the prison’s highest security available. This includes prison officers shadowing her whenever she leaves her cell and surveillance cameras trained on her cell at all times.
Cameron Lindsay, a former warden at the MDC, told Reuters that prison officials have to decide whether to house Maxwell in her own 10-foot-by-12-foot cell by herself or live with another female prisoner.
At MDC, all cells are put into pods, or groupings, within the facility. Each pod houses about 30 to 40 cells, Mr Frantz said, that then open up into a communal space for the inmates.
This communal space holds multiple “viewing rooms” with televisions that play movies, the news, sports, or other broadcast shows. Tables then sit in the middle of the pod where inmates will eat each of their three meals per day, interact with one another, and play games like cards if allowed.
“That’s it. Day and night, 24 hours a day, you are in that pod. You don’t go outside that pod,” Mr Frantz said.
Solitary confinement could be an option for Maxwell if she or prison officials think her life is at risk among the other inmates.
“She’ll have a lot of interactions with inmates, unless she is put into solitary,” Mr Frantz said. “She is going to be treated by some people as a person that’s very famous. Some people may want to become her friend just because of the stature of her name and the crime.”
But other women, disturbed by the alleged crimes against Maxwell regarding young girls, could target the former British socialite.
“I think her wellbeing is in danger while she’s in there,” he added.
Solitary confinement includes a small cell with only a toilet, sink, and bed. Instead of bars on the doors, there is a small slot that allows guards to slide food through three times per day for inmates.
The only time Maxwell would then leave her cell, if she were placed in solitary confinement, would be for brief periods to shower about three times per week, Mr Frantz said.
Prison officials at MDC and BOP will decide long-term how to house Maxwell to make sure they don’t face another Epstein situation.
“I think the Bureau of Prisons is quite embarrassed by that and they don’t want it to happen again,” Mr Frantz said. “No one should be killed in prison or allowed to commit suicide in prison.”
The former warden told Reuters Maxwell’s life would now include strip searches.
“You go from living a life like Maxwell to all of a sudden being in a situation where you’re being strip-searched and having people look into your body cavities,” Mr Lindsey said. “That is a crushing experience.”
She was issued a T-shirt and other basic clothing to be worn each day, as well as a thin mattress, pillow, and blanket. Approved religious material, such as a Bible, could also be allowed for the inmate.
But detainees like Maxwell “have nothing of their personal property,” according to the warden.
A majority of MDC inmates are in the prison pending their trials, so Maxwell’s treatment would not differ from others because she hasn’t been convicted of any crimes. Instead, she, like the other 1,600 inmates, will receive similar treatment depending on security levels.
Her protection among all the inmates, though, could differ for the next year, especially if the prison system wants to avoid another Epstein-esque scandal.