Justice Department responds to Congress on Epstein suicide

Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators may also have been his victims
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Jeffrey Epstein

The Justice Department told lawmakers Friday that Jeffrey Epstein had been placed on suicide watch in July, but was later removed after a psychologist at the Metropolitan Correctional Center determined it “was no longer warranted.”

The official confirmation of the move came in a letter sent Friday afternoon to the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee that shed little new light on the ongoing investigations into any mistakes or mismanagement at the Manhattan facility where Epstein hanged himself earlier this month though it provided several details about how the federal prison system deals with inmates considered at risk of suicide.

“In (Bureau of Prisons) facilities, suicide watch is typically a short-term and highly restrictive intervention measure,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote in the letter, which was obtained by CNN.

“Upon the termination of a suicide watch, the psychologist will make recommendations to support the inmate’s safe management, such as housing with a cellmate or participation in treatment interventions,” Boyd wrote.

Epstein’s in-custody death drew rare bipartisan opprobrium from Reps. Jerry Nadler of New York and Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Democrat and Republican on the committee, respectively, who listed nearly two dozen questions about the conditions at the Manhattan Correctional Center and slammed “severe miscarriages of or deficiencies in inmate protocol” in a letter to the then-acting head of the Bureau of Prisons.

CNN has reported that Epstein was placed on suicide watch in July after being found in his cell with bruises on his neck. He was removed from suicide watch later in the month, a person familiar with the matter said.

Boyd’s letter was sent to Capitol Hill along with a CD containing 125 pages of documents detailing Bureau of Prisons policies and procedures that the congressmen had inquired about.

In the letter, Boyd also reiterated that the investigation into the conduct charged in an indictment against Epstein earlier this summer “remains ongoing.”

Attorney General William Barr has said he is “angry” and “appalled” at what he called the “failure to adequately secure” Epstein at the prison as he awaited trial on sex-trafficking charges.

The FBI and the Justice Department inspector general are investigating the circumstances of the death.

Barr has also cited “serious irregularities” at the facility. CNN reported Thursday that federal investigators in New York issued grand jury subpoenas last week to a number of corrections officers at the Metropolitan Correctional Center — the clearest indication yet that some of the jailers could face prosecution in the wake of Epstein’s death.

Epstein had not been checked on for hours before his suicide, CNN has reported, and the guards who were responsible for his supervision could face criminal exposure if they falsified records to show that they had made the checks every 30 minutes, as is required.

There are also questions as to why Epstein had been left alone in his cell that night, despite the earlier possible suicide attempt. His cellmate had been moved out the day before Epstein was found dead, a person briefed on the matter told CNN last week.

Though the letter Friday said placing an inmate with a cellmate after he or she is released from suicide watch was among the recommendations a psychologist could make, the Justice Department did not specify if there had been such a directive in Epstein’s case.

The department also explained that after being moved out of suicide watch, inmates “are returned to regular custody placement, which may include the Special Housing Unit (SHU).” Special Housing Units, the kind of cell at the facility where Epstein was held before his death, “are housing units where inmates are securely separated from the general inmate population.”

“Placement of inmates in SHU is occasionally required due to safety and security needs of the inmate,” Boyd wrote.

It’s unclear if the response will satisfy the Judiciary Committee leaders, who launched the bipartisan effort earlier this month to investigate the circumstances of Epstein’s death. In their letter to then-acting Bureau of Prisons director Hugh Hurwitz — who has since been removed by Barr — the lawmakers asked questions about Epstein’s confinement, his monitoring before his death and his removal from suicide watch.

While the Justice Department letter did include some information about Epstein’s removal from suicide watch, Boyd wrote that the FBI and Justice Department inspector general were still investigating the matter, and as a result the department was “significantly limited in the amount of information we can release at this time.”

This story has been updated.