Less than three weeks ago, officials at New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center found Jeffrey Epstein in his prison cell with neck injuries that appeared consistent with a suicide attempt or assault. So the wealthy financier was put on suicide watch. But Epstein was taken off suicide watch a few days ago and was being held in a cell alone with officials still uncertain about the source of his earlier injuries.
Why Epstein was taken off suicide watch remains unclear, and it has quickly become one of the main questions surrounding the financier’s death by apparent suicide on Saturday. The Associated Press reports that Epstein was taken off suicide watch “at the end of July” while NBC News says it happened “sometime in the last two weeks.” CNN reported that psychologists with the Federal Bureau of Prisons were the ones in charge of taking him off suicide watch.
Attorney General William Barr issued a statement saying he was “appalled” by Epstein’s death, adding that the apparent suicide “raises serious questions.” Barr said that besides an FBI investigation, the Department of Justice’s inspector general will also be looking into Epstein’s death.
Prison guards reportedly found Epstein in his cell during morning rounds. The New York Times explains why it would have been difficult for Epstein to harm himself while under suicide watch:
Inmates on suicide watch are generally placed in a special observation cell, surrounded with windows, with a bolted down bed and no bedclothes. A correction officer—or sometimes a fellow inmate trained to be a “suicide companion”—is typically assigned to sit in an adjacent office and monitor the inmate constantly.
Robert Gangi, an expert on prisons and the former executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, said guards also generally take shoelaces and belts away from people on suicide watch.
“If he’s on suicide watch, it’s virtually impossible to kill yourself,” Mr. Gangi said.
Word that Epstein had been taken off suicide watch baffled experts in the prison system. “For them to pull him off suicide watch is shocking,” Cameron Lindsay, a former warden, told NBC News. “For someone this high-profile, with these allegations and this many victims, who has had a suicide attempt in the last few weeks, you can take absolutely no chances. You leave him on suicide watch until he’s out of there.” Others, however, characterized the move as par for the course, noting that suicide watch in a federal facility usually doesn’t last more than a week because of the huge expenditure in resources that it means to have officials keep an eye on a prisoner 24 hours per day.