Mary Altaffer / AP

Manhattan Jail Where Jeffrey Epstein Died to Close At Least Temporarily

The 200-plus inmates will be relocated and staff might be transferred or furloughed, but it is unclear so far.

The Justice Department is closing, at least temporarily, the federal prison that financier and now-convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein died at in 2019 to resolve long-standing issues. 

In July 2019, Epstein was found dead in his jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, which was ruled as a suicide. The incident shed light on problematic conditions at the facility and the Federal Bureau of Prisons as a whole, particularly staffing shortages and high suicide numbers among correctional officers. In the aftermath of the death, then-Attorney General William Barr reassigned then-acting BOP Director Hugh Hurwitz. 

“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 people in custody with the resources and programs they need to make a successful return to society after they have served their time,” said a Justice Department spokesperson, in a statement to Government Executive on Friday. “As part of this effort, the Bureau of Prisons has assessed steps necessary to improve conditions at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City.”

In order to address the issues at the center “as quickly and efficiently as possible, the department has decided to close the MCC, at least temporarily, until those issues have been resolved,” said the spokesperson. “Planning for the deactivation is under way, and we will have more updates as that process continues.” The closure was first reported by The New York Times. 

When asked about what will happen to the inmates at the facility, the spokesperson said they “shall be housed in various facilities throughout the Bureau of Prisons commensurate with their security, safety, and programming needs.” There are 263 inmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, according to the bureau’s website. 

A union official told Government Executive that inmates will be moved to facilities in Otisville and Brooklyn, New York. Staff will have the option to be transferred or they will be furloughed, according to the official. BOP’s website does not give a breakdown of the number of staff members by facility, but according to Tyrone Covington, president of the local union that represents employees at the Manhattan institution, there are over 200 employees at that facility. 

Covington told Government Executive he was unsure so far what exactly the situation would mean for staff members.  Also, “we don't know what ‘temporary’ means,” as in how long the prison would be closed, he said. 

We have “great staff,” said Covington. “While I'm disappointed with the manner in which the Department of Justice released this without notifying staff first, the staff at [the Manhattan facility] is committed to continuing to perform the work of the government from here until whenever.” Covington said he first found out about the closure through media inquiries. 

The Justice Department said “planning for the deactivation is under way and we will have more updates as that process continues.”

The Manhattan location is one of BOP’s administrative facilities, which have “special missions, such as the detention of pretrial offenders; the treatment of inmates with serious or chronic medical problems; or the containment of extremely dangerous, violent, or escape-prone inmates,” according to BOP. All facilities under this category, except administrative-maximum security penitentiaries, can hold inmates at all security levels. 

The Manhattan center “has been a long-standing disgrace,” David Patton, attorney in chief at Federal Defenders of New York, told The New York Times, which first reported the closure. “It’s cramped, dark and unsanitary. The building is falling apart. Chronic shortages of medical staff mean that people suffer for long periods of time when they have urgent medical issues.”

Like most other BOP locations, the Manhattan facility has grappled with coronavirus outbreaks. As of Friday afternoon, 46 inmates and 64 staff members had recovered, and there were two active cases. There have been no deaths among staff or inmates at the facility. 

For the agency overall, 42,776 inmates and 7,185 staff have recovered; there are 532 active inmate cases and 414 staff cases; and there have been 244 inmate deaths and five prisons bureau staff deaths.

Lisa Monaco, deputy attorney general, visited the Manhattan facility earlier this month to “get a first-hand look at its operations and infrastructure given ongoing concerns,” said a press release from the Justice Department. She planned to have more meetings about the facility after coming back to Washington, D.C. 

The two correctional officers who were assigned to Epstein’s special housing unit and pleaded guilty to falsifying documents saying they did the proper patrols avoided jail time as they entered into a deferred prosecution in May. 

Separately, in December 2020, a former correctional officer from the location was sentenced to 40 months in prison after pleading guilty to engaging in sexual abusive conduct with an inmate. 

This article has been updated with comments from the local union president.