The apparent suicide of rich pedophile Jeffrey Epstein while in federal custody continues to make headlines. For a time, the murder of vicious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger at a federal prison in West Virginia was big news.
But what about the other prisoners who die violently while in federal jails and prisons? Almost undoubtedly, many of them were less evil than Epstein and Bulger. Do we even know how many of them perished while in custody?
Epstein seems to have tried to kill himself in July, while at the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York City. Yet, two weeks later, he was removed from special “suicide watch” monitoring.
Even in the special housing unit where he was being held, Epstein was supposed to have been checked every 30 minutes. No one looked in on him for several hours before his body was found.
In the wake of his death, other disturbing information about the jail was revealed. Understaffing, chronic overtime work and use of unqualified personnel have been cited.
Some of the same complaints were made by guards at federal penitentiary in Hazelton, West Virginia, after Bulger was beaten to death there in October.
Not every violent death of a jail or prison inmate can be prevented. As Catherine Linaweaver, who served as warden at the Metropolitan Detention Center for 16 months ending in 2014, told a reporter, “If someone really wants to commit suicide, they’re going to do it.” The same can be said of being murdered by other prisoners.
But both situations — one in which a man accused of heinous crimes already had tried once to kill himself and the other involving a gangster whose many enemies had sworn vengeance — are disturbing because of what appear to have been failures to exercise due prudence in safeguarding them.
Attorney General William Barr was right to be “frankly, angry” to learn of Epstein’s death. He vowed that a full investigation will be conducted.
It should not stop with the Epstein case, or with reviewing what happened with Bulger.
Federal officials seem very dedicated in policing conditions at local jails and state prisons. Perhaps a similarly probing look should be taken into federal corrections institutions.