The US is shutting down the infamous New York City jail where Jeffrey Epstein killed himself two years ago, citing lax security due to staffing shortages and crumbling infrastructure that’s led to rat and roach infestations.
On Thursday, the federal Bureau of Prisons announced that the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan will be closed temporarily just weeks after Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco visited the prison and saw the conditions firsthand.
Most inmates will be moved to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where Epstein’s former longtime girlfriend and associate Ghislaine Maxwell is being held on charges of sex trafficking, enticement of minors and perjury.
Inmates and lawyers have complained that MCC was infested with mice, rats and roaches and that multiple inmates were forced to share dirty sinks and toilets that leaked water, urine and feces.
Lawyers and inmates have complained of rat infestations and leaking toilets at MCC
The jail is the site where disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in August 2019
Water leaks across multiple floors have been blamed for structural issues.
‘In an effort to address the issues at MCC NY as quickly and efficiently as possible, the Department has decided to close the MCC, at least temporarily, until those issues have been resolved,’ the Justice Department said.
That statement has also raised speculation that the jail could in fact remain closed forever, as there is plenty of capacity at the facility where Maxwell is being held.
MCC has held inmates such as Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán and Mafia boss John Gotti.
None caused more of a splash than disgraced ultra-wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was 66 years old when he was found hanged in his prison cell at the jail after being charged with sex trafficking minors in Florida and New York.
His death was ruled a suicide, but has spawned conspiracy theories that Epstein was silenced to protect the crimes of his powerful accomplices from being exposed.
The Justice Department’s inspector general has yet to complete an investigation into lapses at MCC that allowed Epstein to end his life.
Most of MCC’s 233 inmates will be moved to a Brooklyn prison holding Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s longtime girlfriend and associate who allegedly helped him procure young girls
Two officers responsible for monitoring him that night have pleaded guilty to charges they lied on prison records because they were sleeping and browsing the internet instead of doing their jobs.
The prison currently has 233 inmates, down from a normal population of 600 or more.
Until recently, it had been recruiting new staff. Now, employees are being sent letters notifying them of a force reduction.
The department did not give a timetable for the closure, saying planning is underway.
‘The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that every facility in the federal prison system is not only safe and secure, but also provides people in custody with the resources and programs they need to make a successful return to society after they have served their time,’ the statement said.
Jack Donson, a former longtime official at the Bureau of Prisons, said given all the remediation needed, it could be years before the Metropolitan Correctional Center reopens – if at all.
‘It’s been a long time coming addressing the infrastructure issues,’ Donson said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.
‘Is it coincidental with the recent publicity of the Epstein suicide and the rampant corruption in that facility? It makes sense to maybe start anew.’
Over the years, the jail’s inhabitants have included several close associates of Osama bin Laden and Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff.
Guzmán, famous for his prison escapes, was held at the jail while on trial in Brooklyn in 2019, prompting closures of the Brooklyn Bridge each day as he was taken to and from court.
The Metropolitan Detention Center, the Brooklyn jail that will absorb Metropolitan Correctional Center inmates, has also drawn scrutiny for problems including sexual assault allegations against correctional officers, a weeklong power failure in January 2019, and an inmate’s death last year after he was sprayed with pepper spray.
Donson said the larger Brooklyn facility, which currently has about 1,500 inmates including Epstein’s longtime confidante Maxwell and singer R. Kelly, has the capacity to permanently replace the Manhattan jail.
‘Do they really need MCC?’ Donson said. ‘They don’t really need it right now in my opinion — bed wise, capacity wise.’
The Manhattan prison had a hard time during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Short 25 percent of its staff, restrooms ran out of soap and inmates slept at arms-length
In March 2020, just before the pandemic prompted federal prisons to halt visitation, the jail went on a weeklong lockdown after officials got a tip that a gun may have been smuggled inside.
Investigators found a handgun and turned up other banned items, such as cellphones, narcotics and homemade weapons, sparking an ongoing probe into guard misconduct.
After the gun was discovered, then-Attorney General William Barr launched a task force to address criminal misconduct by officers at several correctional facilities.
As the coronavirus took hold, Metropolitan Correctional Center employees weren’t able to get masks. Staff restrooms ran out of soap. Workers in charge of refilling the dispensers were pressed into duty as correctional officers because of staffing shortages.
Early in the crisis, more than 25 prisons of staff positions were vacant.
A few months later, a court-authorized inspection found inmates with coronavirus symptoms were neglected and social distancing was almost nonexistent, with some inmates sleeping within arm’s reach of each other.
Earlier this year, a lawyer alleged that an inmate with the mental capacity of a child was left in a holding cell for 24 hours while awaiting a competency evaluation.