Articles Posted in Prisoner Deaths

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With multiple media outlets reporting that Jeffrey Epstein has died via hanging, while confined at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan (MCC New York), questions are already being asked about the circumstances of his death. How can a federal pretrial detainee reportedly on suicide watch after a recent suicide attempt engage in self-injurious behavior? These questions are fair and require complete answers.Ferguson Gown

Experience demonstrates a standard operating procedure for correctional systems’ management of inmates on suicide watch. They are housed in mental health units. They are placed in single cells from which all property, including blankets, is removed. The light in the cell is always on. Both correctional and mental health staff conduct routine, scheduled wellness checks. And inmates are forced to wear a Ferguson gowns – giant padded gowns secured by Velcro straps instead of ties. If this is how the MCC was managing Epstein, it is difficult to see how he would have had either the opportunity or the means to hang himself.

Notably, this is not the first time that the Bureau of Prisons’ management of a high-profile inmate has drawn scrutiny, however. Just last year, Whitey Bulger was killed hours after arriving USP Hazelton (WV), and Hazelton’s warden retired some six months later. No doubt an investigation will be conducted into Epstein’s death, and the light shown on the BOP will likely be harsh.

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Yesterday, news spread rather quickly that notorious Boston crime figure and FBI informant Whitey Bulger had been killed at USP Hazleton (WV). Over the last 24 hours, reports have trickled out concerning the nature and circumstances of Bulger’s death. According to The Boston Globe, Bulger was attacked “[w]ithin hours of his arrival” at Hazelton: “Two inmates were under investigation in the attack […] captured on video surveillance entering Bulger’s cell around 6 a.m., according to one of the people. It was about two hours later that Bulger was found beaten, with his eyes nearly gouged out, the people said.”

That other inmates would seek to do Bulger harm is no surprise given his well-publicized assistance to federal authorities over the years (i.e., status as a ‘snitch’). The question would seem to be: Why was he moved to USP Hazelton? and How would other inmates have gained access to his cell when he was apparently still in Admissions and Orientation (being received upon transfer to the prison)? According to The New York Times, Bulger had been moved repeatedly while in federal custody (from USP Tucson, where he reportedly “was stabbed by another inmate” to USP Coleman, where he reportedly “threatened a staff member”), as his health steadily worsened: “Mr. Bulger had suffered a series of heart attacks while in prison — more than half a dozen over the years.” Indeed, there are reports that not only did Bulger suffer from “deteriorating health and a heart condition,” but he was also “using a wheelchair.”

Recognizing that Bulger’s medical accommodation needs may not have risen to the level justifying placement at a Federal Medical Center (FMC), the BOP does operate geriatric units, including at FCC Terre Haute. However, rather than being sent to an FMC or to a geriatric unit, he was transferred to a high-security prison where, last year, the Times found there had been “275 violent episodes, including fights among inmates and major assaults on staff, an almost 15 percent increase from 2016.” Notably, “Mr. Bulger appears to have been at least the third inmate to die as a result of violence at the Hazelton prison this year.”

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The Times-Tribune reportsthat Ephraim Gorton, a 29-year-old inmate at USP Canaan (PA), died this morning after sustaining life-threatening injuries:

A federal inmate at a Wayne County prison died this morning after a fight with another inmate in a prison housing unit sent him to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.[…]
Staff responded to the fight and separated the inmates, she said. The second inmate, who has not been named, was treated for minor injuries. No other inmates or staff members were injured.
The cause of Mr. Goitom’s death and most details about the fight are not being released as the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigates the incident, she said. The prison will remain on lockdown during the investigation.