Epstein’s death may have been a conspiracy, but past experience suggests it is simply a case of gross negligence. Liam Glen writes on suicides in jails and prisons.
When reports came of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide, they were met with immediate skepticism. The accused child rapist and sex trafficker should have been on suicide watch after an attempt a few weeks ago, but he had inexplicably been taken off.
Epstein was thought to have dirt on elites in business and politics, so his death was a magnet for conspiracy theories.
Some are patently ridiculous, like those that try to pin the blame on the Clinton family. Others are plausible, but still unsubstantiated, claiming that officials were coerced or bribed into keeping him on low surveillance.
These theories proliferate because the only other explanation is that guards in a high-security prison were so hopelessly inept that they would leave one of the most infamous prisoners on the face of the Earth unattended when they knew that he was suicidal.
If that is true, however, it would just show that the criminal justice system treats high-profile prisoners just the same as everyone else. Suicides like that of Jeffrey Epstein are not an anomaly.
Incompetence and Indifference
In 2013, 6 percent of deaths in prisons and a third of those in jails were suicides. By comparison, suicide accounted for 0.0126 percent of national deaths that year.
Under suicide watch, prisoners are kept under constant digital and/or in-person supervision in a room without any possible instruments to commit self-harm. Assuming everyone does their jobs, it should be impossible for prisoners to kill themselves.
However, some of the greatest problems come when deciding when to place someone under suicide watch and when to let them out.
The pro-criminal justice Marshall Project, for example, published an anecdotal case of a prisoner who committed suicide when she was taken off watch because “while still under observation, [she] had been singing with another patient.”
A study published in 2010 analyzes numerous factors contributing to prisoner suicide, including unclear guidelines and insufficient training for guards.
Even officials who truly care about prisoner welfare can find the situation overwhelming. The guards tasked with watching Epstein during his death were reportedly working grueling overtime shifts.
While it is no excuse for negligence, it is a universal truth that no institution can overwork its employees and expect high-quality results.
Where From Here?
This is not an insurmountable problem. The World Health Organization even has recommendations for preventing suicide in jails and prisons, which include better training and detailed guidelines for guards.
Epstein’s death has created an uproar. Attorney General William Barr is launching an investigation, something supported by Democratic figures like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The outrage is mostly directed by the fact that Epstein got to go out on his own terms, without facing his victims in court and without naming any co-conspirators. Understandably, people have little empathy for the man himself.
But this should not be the case for every person behind bars. Not all of them are guilty. Even of the many who are, there are very few who could reasonably be called “irredeemable.” If we truly care about human life, the anger over Epstein’s suicide should be a starting point to reforming the criminal justice system.