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Jeffrey Epstein's Death Puts A Focus On Suicides In Jail

The Metropolitan Correctional Center where financier Jeffrey Epstein was held in New York. Epstein died of suicide in prison while awaiting trial on charges that he trafficked underage girls for sex, officials and media reported Saturday, sparking an FBI investigation.
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Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Officials said disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide on Saturday morning. Epstein was being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.

While conspiracy theories abound regarding Epstein’s death, especially because he was taken off of suicide watch after an apparent attempt, people who study criminal justice weren’t all that surprised.

A 2015 report by the Justice Department said that suicide has been a leading cause of death in jail since 2000.

Here’s Lindsay M. Hayes, project director for the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, writing in The Atlantic.

Tellingly, many criminal-justice experts pointed instead to a broader issue: Suicide has been a lingering problem in detention facilities, and systemic factors—such as inattention, understaffing, or inadequate training—generally offer a simpler explanation for a prisoner’s death than nefarious intent.

Hundreds of individuals are thought to commit suicide each year in jails throughout the country, and suicide is still thought to be the leading cause of death in such facilities. Why such uncertainty? The U.S. Justice Department’s reporting program for deaths in correctional institutions has not released any data since 2016. The program was first established in 1990 to require the Justice Department to collect data on all deaths in custody from state and local authorities. As last reported in 2016, 2014 saw 372 suicides in local jails throughout the United States, resulting in a suicide rate of 50 deaths per 100,000 inmates. In state and federal prisons, 249 inmates died by suicide during 2014, resulting in a suicide rate of 20 deaths per 100,000 inmates.

Attorney General William Barr expressed concern about the circumstances of Epstein’s death, saying, “We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation.”

Why is the rate of jail suicides so high? What is known about Epstein’s case and how does it compare to others?

We talk about what we know about death by suicide in prisons and jails.

Produced by Jonquilyn Hill.

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.


Patti Jones, Lost her nephew to suicide

Josie Duffy Rice, President, The Appeal; @jduffyrice

Maurice Chammah, Staff writer, The Marshall Project; @MauriceChammah

Christine Tartaro, Professor of criminal justice, Stockton University

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