Michael R. by Sisak and Michael Balsamo | The Associated Press
NEW YORK – The US government said Thursday that it is closing a federal prison in New York City following several problems that emerged after the death of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein two years ago.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons said the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan would be closed at least temporarily to address issues that have long plagued the facility, including loose security and crumbling infrastructure.
The facility, which houses prisoners such as Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and Mafia boss John Gotti, currently holds 233 inmates, down from the general population of 600 or more. Most are expected to be transferred to a federal prison in Brooklyn.
The decision to close the MCC – billed as one of the safest prisons in America – comes weeks after Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco visited it and looked at the conditions for the first time.
Until recently, the facility was recruiting new employees. Now, letters are being sent to the employees informing them about the reduction in force.
The Justice Department said, “In an effort to address issues in MCC NY as quickly and efficiently as possible, the Department has decided to close MCC, at least temporarily, until those issues are resolved.” Is.”
The department did not give any timetable for the bandh, saying the plan was 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 individuals with the resources and programs they need to make a successful return to society after their time has been served. are required for this,” the statement said.
Epstein’s death a month after his arrest on child sex trafficking charges has cast a shadow over the prison, which has since been hit by a massive spread of the coronavirus, the state of inmates’ complaints about a smuggled gun, a prisoner’s Death and a revolving warden’s door.
Inmates and lawyers have complained that the prison was full of rats, mice and cockroaches and that many inmates were forced to share dirty sinks and toilets that leaked water, urine and feces. Water leaks in several floors have been attributed to structural issues.
Jack Donson, a former longtime Bureau of Prisons official, said given all the necessary treatments, it could be before the Metropolitan Correctional Center can reopen – if at all.
“It’s been a long time since we addressed infrastructure issues,” Donson said in a telephone interview. “Is this a coincidence with the recent publicity of the Epstein suicide and the rampant corruption in that facility? Maybe it makes sense to start anew.”
Over the years, residents of the prison have included several close associates of Osama bin Laden and Wall Street thug Bernard Madoff. Guzmán, famous for his prison escape, was jailed in Brooklyn in 2019 during the trial, leading to the Brooklyn Bridge being closed every day as he was escorted from court.
The Metropolitan Detention Center, the Brooklyn prison that will absorb Metropolitan Correctional Center inmates, has filed complaints against corrections officers for problems including sexual assault charges, a week-long power failure in January 2019 and the death of an inmate after being sprayed with pepper last year. has examined. spray
Donson said the large Brooklyn facility, which currently houses about 1,500 inmates, including Epstein’s longtime confidant Ghislaine Maxwell and singer R. Kelly, has the potential to permanently replace a Manhattan prison.
“Do they really need MCC?” Donson said. “In my opinion they don’t really need it – bed wise, capacity wise.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general has yet to complete an investigation into the loopholes at the Metropolitan Correctional Center that allowed Epstein to end his life. The two officers responsible for monitoring him that night pleaded guilty to charges of lying on prison records because they were sleeping and browsing the Internet instead of doing their jobs.
In March 2020, just before the pandemic prompted federal prisons to halt travel, the prison went on a week-long lockdown after officials received a tip that a gun might be smuggled. Investigators found a handcuff and other contraband items, such as cellphones, narcotics and homemade weapons, leading to an investigation into the guard’s misconduct.
Following the gun’s discovery, 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 were unable to get masks. The soap ran out in the staff toilet. The staff in charge of refilling the dispensers were put on duty as correction officers due to shortage of staff. At the start of the crisis, more than 25% of staff positions were vacant.
A few months later, a court-authorized inspection found that prisoners with coronavirus symptoms were neglected and social distancing was almost non-existent, with some prisoners sleeping within arm’s reach of each other.
Earlier this year, a lawyer alleged that an inmate with a child’s mental ability was left in a holding cell for 24 hours awaiting a merit assessment.