ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

cloudy-day
75°
Mostly Cloudy
H 80° L 69°
  • cloudy-day
    75°
    Current Conditions
    Mostly Cloudy. H 80° L 69°
  • cloudy-day
    80°
    Today
    Mostly Cloudy. H 80° L 69°
  • heavy-rain-day
    80°
    Tomorrow
    Chance of Rain. H 80° L 69°
LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb news on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb traffic on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb weather on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

National
For inmates like Epstein, suicide watch is meant to be short
Close

For inmates like Epstein, suicide watch is meant to be short

For inmates like Epstein, suicide watch is meant to be short
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File
FILE - This Aug. 13, 2019, file photo, shows the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. Suicide is such a constant concern at federal lockups such as the Metropolitan Correctional Center’s Special Housing Unit that guards keep ready access to “the stick,” a wooden pole with a sharpened blade at the end that’s used to cut down inmates if they try to hang themselves with bedsheets, which is how Jeffrey Epstein is believed to have died. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

For inmates like Epstein, suicide watch is meant to be short

Suicide is such a constant concern at federal jails that guards have ready access to "the stick," a wooden pole with a sharpened blade at the end that's used to cut down inmates if they try to hang themselves with bedsheets.

That's believed to be exactly how Jeffrey Epstein took his life Saturday at the Metropolitan Correctional Center's Special Housing Unit after a possible previous attempt, and less than two weeks after he had been taken off suicide watch, in which the lights are left on all night, inmates are not allowed bedsheets, and they are monitored round-the-clock by someone making notes every 15 minutes.

For all the talk from politicians and conspiracy theorists that Epstein should have remained under such scrutiny behind bars, prison experts say suicide watch is intended for only short periods because it puts too much stress on the staff and inmate alike.

"It's just not humane to keep them on those restrictions indefinitely," said Lindsay Hayes, a nationally recognized expert on inmate suicide prevention and a project director for the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives. "Many times, suicidal inmates will deny they're suicidal so they can get their clothes and privileges back."

The 66-year-old Epstein was awaiting trial on charges of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls when he killed himself, taking his life amid a cascading series of breakdowns at the MCC's Special Housing Unit, a chronically overcrowded, understaffed lockup-within-a-lockup that has held some of the world's most notorious terrorists, drug lords, sex traffickers and swindlers. The SHU can hold several dozen inmates at once.

Inmates say the unit — pronounced the "shoe" for short — is a soul-crushing high-rise gulag in the heart of lower Manhattan, with one prisoner once calling its constant noise, sewage leaks, mold, rodents and roaches "a stinking pond of depression whirling in an arc of madness."

"It's a place of torture. It's terrifying," said Sabrina Shroff, a federal public defender who has represented inmates in the unit facing terrorism charges.

Keeping the MCC's inmates from killing themselves is complicated by staffing shortages so severe that correctional officers often work so many overtime shifts in a row that they don't even go home, and employees who have other jobs in the jail are often pulled in to do the work of guards.

Of the two guards responsible for Epstein on the night of his suicide, one was working a fifth straight day of overtime and another was on mandatory overtime. Federal investigators are looking into whether the guards were sleeping on the job and falsified log entries to show they checked on inmates every half-hour as required.

In the meantime, the warden has been removed and the two guards have been placed on leave.

It's not known exactly how many inmates have taken their own lives over the years at MCC, but federal Bureau of Prisons figures show at least 124 killed themselves in the agency's prisons and jails between fiscal years 2010 and 2016. There was no breakdown on how many were on suicide watch.

Getting on suicide watch requires a determination by the institution's suicide prevention coordinator, usually its chief psychologist, that a person may be in imminent danger of suicide.

Hayes said it is not unusual for inmates on suicide watch to be taken off after a few days, because the conditions are so oppressive. Often their clothes and bed linens are taken away, and they are issued heavy, rip- and fold-resistant smocks and blankets to reduce the risk of hanging.

They are typically provided only finger foods so they do not have to be given utensils. Visits and phone calls are curtailed, and the inmates are often confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day, unable to shower or exercise.

Typically no cameras are trained on inmates on suicide watch because of federal guidelines restricting such monitoring in areas where prisoners are likely to be naked. But a guard or specially trained inmate watches from a chair outside the cell, taking notes on what the prisoner is doing.

Guidelines say inmates are removed from suicide watch only when they are deemed no longer an imminent risk for suicide and only after face-to-face evaluation by the chief psychologist or a doctoral-level psychologist.

In Epstein's case, he was put on suicide watch after he was found on the floor of his cell with bruises on his neck July 23. By August, he was returned to a SHU cell, able to meet with his lawyers for up to 12 hours a day.

Inmates in SHU are typically paired with a cellmate and checked on by guards every half-hour. They are provided a mattress, blankets, a pillow and sheets, normal prison clothing, regular meals and access to a wash basin and toilet. Epstein had a cellmate for a while but was alone after the cellmate was transferred out.

Jack Donson, a retired treatment specialist who worked for the Bureau of Prisons for more than two decades, disputed any notion that Epstein was removed from suicide watch prematurely.

If anything, he said, Epstein spent more time on it than is typical: "It was really at least double what the agency policy suggests."

___

Associated Press writers Jim Mustian and Michael R. Sisak in New York contributed to this report. Biesecker reported from Washington.

Read More

News

  • A new environmental foundation backed by Leonardo DiCaprio is pledging $5 million in aid to the Amazon, which has been swept by wildfires. >> Read more trending news  According to The Associated Press, Earth Alliance, an environmental foundation that was created last month by DiCaprio and philanthropists Laurene Powell Jobs and Brian Sheth, launched the Amazon Forest Fund.  The alliance is also seeking donations to help repair the Brazilian rainforest, called the “lungs of the planet.” Brazilian federal experts reported a record number of wildfires across the country this year, up 84% over the same period in 2018. The funds will be distributed to five local groups working to combat the problem: Instituto Associacao Floresta Protegida, Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon, Instituto Kabu, Instituto Raoni and Instituto Socioambiental. Backed by military aircraft, Brazilian troops are deploying in the Amazon to fight fires that have swept the region and prompted anti-government protests as well as an international outcry. Brazil contains about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, who has said he wants to convert land for cattle pastures and soybean farms, won office after channeling outrage over the corruption scandals of the former government. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • A large crowd gathered Sunday morning at RiverScape MetroPark for a service hosted by Kanye West. >> Read more trending news  Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and their children held the Sunday Service in support of the victims and survivors of the mass shooting at the city of Dayton’s historic Oregon District. Several other celebrities, including Dave Chappelle and Michael Che, of “Saturday Night Live,” also were seen at the service, which lasted about two hours. “The best way we can honor our fallen is by getting up better than we were before,” Chappelle told the crowd. “We won’t let those people die in vain.” Two attendees said they had a great time at the service this morning. “It was really fun. I actually got to be a part of the Sunday Service choir,” Chaelyn Allen said. “We been rehearsing for, like, a few days this week, so it was really fun.” “I think it was awesome, a great cause,” Shantel Wilder said. “It feels good to be a part of it.”
  • Disney is completely reinventing Epcot. At its D23 expo in Anaheim, California, this weekend, the company announced some major changes coming to the park. >> Read more trending news  The company kicked off its announcements with Journey of Water, Inspired by 'Moana.' The attraction will let guests 'interact with magical, living water in a beautiful and inspiring setting.' The upcoming 'Guardians of the Galaxy' ride finally has a name. The company announced it will be called 'Guardians of the Galaxy': Cosmic Rewind. It will feature 'the first reverse launch into space.' In the park's Mission Space pavilion, the company announced a new restaurant called Space 220. It will open this winter and is described as 'an out-of-this-world culinary experience with celestial panorama of a space station, including daytime and nighttime views of Earth from 220 miles up.' The United Kingdom pavilion in the World Showcase will welcome the first attraction inspired by 'Mary Poppins' in Cherry Tree Lane, the company announced. We don't know a lot about this attraction other than it will be the first for the United Kingdom pavilion. The park also announced a new pavilion at World Celebration. It will be the home base for Epcot's signature festivals, providing a view of the World Showcase. The company said it will be a three-level structure and will become a new icon for Epcot. Finally, the company announced a new nighttime spectacular called 'HarmonioUS.' It is said to be the largest nighttime show created for a Disney park. Disney said it will celebrate how the music of Disney inspires people around the world. For more information, visit the Disney Parks Blog.
  • Firefighters came to the rescue of a dog that got stuck on a roof overnight Saturday in Everett, Washington.  South County Fire tweeted that the dog went out an open window onto a narrow roof and couldn't turn around to get back in. Firefighters were able to get the scared pup back inside.
  • The Cocoa Beach Police Department arrested Joseph McKinney, 40, of Texas, after he allegedly threatened to conduct a shooting at a hotel. >> Read more trending news  Investigators said McKinney was taken into custody after he got off a cruise ship at Port Canaveral on Sunday morning.  Police responded to the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront Hotel on Friday after the hotel received an electronic guest review expressing McKinney’s displeasure about his recent stay, according to police. Officers said McKinney’s review contained threatening language and made reference to an “active shooter style” event at the hotel. McKinney was charged with making written threats to kill, do bodily injury or conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism. He was transported to the Brevard County Jail and is being held on $25,000 bail.
  • Atlanta police last week released a video showing a suspect in a shooting at a block party at the Atlanta University Center that wounded four students. No one has stepped forth to identify that man, so on Sunday, Atlanta City Council member Cleta Winslow said she is adding $3,000 more in reward money to better incentivize someone’s good citizenship. The reward will now be $5,000. “This is personal,” Winslow said after a short press conference near the AUC campus. “Parents send their children to our town. They need assurance that they are safe.” Four women — two students from Spelman College, two from Clark Atlanta University — were shot or grazed Tuesday night outside the Robert W. Woodruff Library during a party before the first day of school. Police believe the young man in the video was involved in a confrontation in which four or five shots were fired in the plaza crowded with 200 students. Police said that perhaps a second possible gunman was targeted by the suspect but that the women were not intended targets. One of the victims was shot in the chest, but all are expected to recover. Police said they are getting some tips but have not gotten enough information to make an arrest. Longtime civic activist Michael Langford said, “I want to appeal to the community at large because no crime occurs without someone knowing, hearing or seeing something. “And while the money is there, I want to appeal to your moral conscience to come forward because the only thing it takes for evil to exist in our community it for good people to sit back and do nothing.” Winslow said she had just met with student leaders to assure them of their safety. Both Atlanta and Atlanta University Center police said they have beefed up patrols in the areas that area. » RELATED: Concerns on Atlanta campuses after shooting » RELATED: Tighter campus security