Federal New York City Jail Made Infamous by Jeffrey Epstein Death Closed Due to Persistent Problems and Incompetence
In late August, 2021, the federal Bureau of Prisons announced what is likely a temporary closure of its Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), located in lower Manhattan. It has been cited for its repeated lack of oversight, most recently for the death of accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein who died, or was murdered, while guards slept and surfed the internet [See PLN, Jul 2021, p. 65].
Other famous prisoners who have been held at the jail include Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, mob boss John Gotti, and Ponzi scheme financier Bernie Madoff.
More than 200 prisoners currently held at MCC are expected to be moved to a federal jail in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, security and infrastructure issues will be addressed at the Manhattan facility. The closure comes just weeks after a deputy attorney general toured the jail.
In early 2020, just before the pandemic broke out, a gun was found at the MCC, prompting a week-long lockdown and an investigation by then-Attorney General William Barr.
In April 2020, a class action lawsuit was filed which alleged administrators of MCC failed to provide an adequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The MCC’s treatment of those suspected of having COVID-19,” the complaint charges, “is as ill-conceived as it is inhumane. In multiple instances, the MCC has simply left symptomatic inmates in open dormitories in which more than two dozen men bunk closely together, sharing a single toilet and one or two sinks. Unsurprisingly, the virus has spread rapidly through at least one of the units that contain these open dormitories.”
The suit asks for increased testing, quarantine measures, improved cleaning, free distribution of basic hygiene supplies, early release for those who are eligible, and an independent monitor. The suit was dismissed due to the MCC’s closure. The court had previously denied the BOP’s motion to dismiss the suit. See: Fernandez-Rodriguez v. Licon-Vitale, 470 F. Supp. 3d 323 (S.D.N.Y. 2020).
As PLN has reported, a woman held at MCC won a $2 million lawsuit after she went blind from an untreated case of pink eye [See PLN, Jan. 2021, p. 56; Richardson v. United States, USDC, S. Dist. NY, Case No. 1:19-cv-01892-WHP].
Another story emerged from the case of Tiffany Days who was held at MCC on federal drug conspiracy charges. Days experienced conditions so unbearable that it prompted U.S. District Court Judge, Colleen McMahon, to condemn the facilities as “inhuman as anything I’ve heard about [in] any Columbian prison.”
According to her attorney, after testing positive for COVID-19, Days languished for 75 days in solitary confinement. Days endured weeks without a shower, access to recreation, or the use of telephones and computers. She also described having to eat moldy food and frozen sandwiches that hurt her teeth when she tried to eat them.
Days recounted one instance where her tears froze to her face due to the extremely cold temperatures inside a facility. On another occasion, Days survived what she described as a “feces flood” with “chunks of defecation coming out of the pipes and urine-filled water gushing all through the area.” Days recalled prisoners vomiting from nausea as the guards told them to clean up the filth with their “own hands.”
Judge McMahon expressed her frustration about the facilities’ conditions during an April 29, 2021 hearing where she reluctantly sentenced Days to a mandatory minimum of five years for conspiring to distribute and possess meth and cocaine. According to transcript obtained by the Washington Post, the chief judge lamented her “complete and utter inability to do anything meaningful about the conditions.” The judge denounced the officials operating the federal detention facilities, calling them “morons.”
Judge McMahon blamed a revolving door of wardens that left the administration of the facilities without continuity or leadership. “They lurch from crisis to crisis, from gun smuggling to Jeffrey Epstein…. There is no excuse for the conditions…. You shouldn’t have to suffer for the incompetence of the United States Department of Justice and its subsidiary agency, the Bureau of Prisons,” Judge McMahon said. See: USA v. Days, USDC, S. Dist. NY, Case No. 1:19-cr-00619-CM .
If and when the federal jail opens, it remains to be seen if the BOP is capable of running the jail in a safe and humane manner. Coupled with the well documented problems at nearby city run Rikers Island, it appears to be an open question if America’s biggest and richest city should be in the business of caging people at all given their apparent inability at the local, state and federal level, to do so competently.
Additional Sources: npr.org, Washington Post, American Bar Association Journal