Former prison warden: Here's how Jeffrey Epstein's suicide could have been prevented

In the wake of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide, everybody’s asking the obvious: How in the world was Epstein able to commit suicide at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), in New York?

In the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), an inmate can be placed on suicide watch for a variety of reasons, such as a staff referral, self-harming behavior or an inmate self-report of depression.

When a BOP inmate is placed on suicide watch, which occurs at prisons every day in this county, there is a very specific policy that must be adhered to. Once the decision has been made to place an inmate on watch, the inmate will come under “direct and constant supervision.” Direct and constant supervision will be provided by a staff member or specially trained inmate suicide watch companion.

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Had Epstein remained on suicide watch, I believe he would be alive today; however, for whatever reason, the decision was made to remove him from suicide watch. That decision, by policy, must come from the chief psychologist, with concurrence from the chief executive, which is the warden. Keep in mind, however, that all operational decisions are ultimately the responsibility of the warden.

I believe the warden should have intervened and overturned the decision to remove Epstein from suicide watch. Epstein was a much too high-profile of an inmate. Given the totality of the circumstances surrounding his case, including one previous suicide attempt, removing him from suicide watch and returning him to the Special Housing Unit, is reflective of imprudent decision making and an overall lack of correctional leadership at the administrative level.

I don’t believe Epstein was murdered; rather, I believe this will prove to be a case of prison staff failing to realize how important it was that Epstein remain living. I hypothesize that Epstein was able to charm (manipulate) a mental health professional into believing that he was no longer a threat to himself, and that that decision was not challenged at a higher level.

But now imprudent actions have led to a situation in which Epstein’s alleged victims will never see justice served. On a larger scale, failures such as this, or the Whitey Bulger homicide, for example, are reflective of our inability to uphold our systems of justice.

The leadership of correctional entities must remember that inmates are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment, and that correctional leadership bears a moral, ethical and constitutional responsibility for the safety, security and wellbeing of not only the community and facility staff, but its inmates too. If we are to slide from this basic premise, it is a move towards anarchy.

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It is imperative that we uphold our systems of justice and adhere to the Constitution by evaluating and improving every component of our criminal justice system.

Cameron K. Lindsay is a retired federal prison warden, an author and expert witness.