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HRDC lawyer Deb Golden comments on Epstein prison suicide

New York Daily News, Aug. 11, 2019.

Epstein suicide perfect storm of bad prison practices, poor staffing, bad medical call: reports, experts

Accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center— three weeks after a flubbed attempt — may have been the perfect storm of poor prison practices, inadequate staffing and a bad medical call.

Guards didn’t follow procedure in the hours before the disgraced financier was found dead Saturday, including the directive that he have a cellmate and that a guard would “look into his cell” every 30 minutes, the New York Times reported.

According to the paper, the federal jail had transferred Epstein’s inmate, leaving him alone in the cell two weeks after he was removed from suicide watch.

It’s standard procedure at the MCC to house people who have been on suicide watch with a cellmate. It’s also standard procedure for guards in special housing units, like the one where Epstein was located, to check inmates every half hour, the Bureau of Prison officials told the Times.

There are also vexing questions about why Epstein was taken off suicide watch — and who made the call.

Christine Tartaro, who wrote a book about suicide and self-harm in jails, told the Daily News that while policy differs from facility to facility, most have written guidelines for taking inmates off of suicide watch and that “People should never come off of suicide watch unless a qualified mental health professional has had the opportunity to assess them and make that call.”

She said she believes most facilities have a mental health expert make the call about taking someone off of suicide watch, though that person could be a psychologist, rather than a psychiatrist, meaning they wouldn’t have a medical degree.

According to the Times report, Epstein was getting daily psychiatric evaluations while on suicide watch.

The Bureau of Prisons has a long history of inadequate mental health care, including shortages of psychiatrists on staff, Deborah Golden, a lawyer at the Human Rights Defense Center told the Miami Herald.

“They do a bad job at suicide prevention,” Golden said. “They don’t have a humane system for monitoring someone. It’s considered more like a disciplinary infraction: attempting self harm.”

Originally placed on suicide watch following his first attempt on July 10, the 66-year-old Epstein was taken off the restriction for reasons that haven’t been publicly explained. Barely two weeks after that he was found dead after apparently hanging himself.

The jail was also short-staffed at the time of Epstein’s suicide.

One guard in Epstein’s unit was working a fifth straight day of overtime and another guard was working mandatory overtime, the Associated Press reported, citing an unnamed source.

But Preet Bharara, the former federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said Epstein’s suicide was likely recorded by jail cameras.

“One hopes it is complete, conclusive, and secured,” he tweeted.