While people may not mourn his death based upon the heinous allegations against him, Epstein’s suicide is a high-profile example of the American prison system’s systematic failure to protect both those accused and convicted of crimes. Jails and federal holding facilities incarcerate those accused of crimes pending trial, and at times, those convicted with shorter sentences. Federal and state prisons house those who have pled or have been convicted of crimes.

Pre-trial detainees and prisoners at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Epstein was housed, and MDC in Brooklyn, have allegedly been subjected to beatings by staff, rodent-infested cells and solitary confinement, according to prisoners, lawsuits, and human rights groups. Beatings, suicides, and sexual assaults in jails and prisons are indicative of a broad “culture of indifference” that can and often does have fatal results.

Similar instances happen all across the country. Suicides by detainees and prisoners held on minor charges, staff beatings, mold and rodent infested cells, and conditions of extreme heat or cold have been regularly reported in local and county jails, as well as state and federal prisons.

Jail can be particularly traumatic and cruel for people with mental health needs, and suicides often occur early in a person’s incarceration. “To see how we treat people with serious mental illness in a jail setting, it’s just so wretched it almost takes your breath away,” said Sarah Geraghty, managing attorney for impact litigation at the Southern Center for Human Rights.

The truth is correctional facilities routinely fail those incarcerated. An examination of deaths in correctional facilities, and especially jails, across the U.S. demonstrates how completely guards and staff neglect, ignore, and compromise the health of those they are assigned to supervise. In 2016, the Huffington Post reported that 811 people died in jail. One-third of those deaths were a result of suicide.

“To see how we treat people with serious mental illness in a jail setting, it’s just so wretched it almost takes your breath away”

Sarah Geraghty
Managing Attorney for Impact Litigation
Southern Center for Human Rights.

Since 2000, suicides have been the leading cause of jail deaths. The number peaked in 2014, the last year for which figures are available. On average, 1 in 5 people in jail around the country is believed to have a mental health condition. Too often, people end up in jail when the attention they need would be better provided by mental health treatment facilities. This is the argument being made in Los Angeles right now, where close to a third of all people in custody – more than 5,000 people – have a history of mental illness.

Since the United States incarcerates more of its population for longer periods of time than any other developed country in the world, it is incumbent upon us to protect those we incarcerate. While people need to be held and punished for their crimes, they should not be victimized while incarcerated. The government, be it state or federal, has a duty to protect those in its’ care.

Stahl Criminal Defense Lawyers aggressively defend individuals charged with complex federal and state crimes. Founder Robert G. Stahl is recognized as one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the NY/NJ area for his skills, knowledge and success. To contact the firm, call 908.301.9001 for the NJ office and 212.755.3300 for the NYC office, or email Mr. Stahl at rstahl@stahlesq.com.