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A federal Manhattan jail where Jeffrey Epstein took his own life in 2019 will close, at least temporarily, after numerous complaints about the deteriorating conditions within the secure facility.
The Department of Justice announced the closure in a statement on Thursday saying they were opting to close New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) because of ongoing issues within the jail—often touted as one of the most secure jails in the country.
“In an effort to address the issues at MCC NY as quickly and efficiently as possible, the Department has decided to close the MCC, at least temporarily, until those issues have been resolved,” the Justice Department said in a statement obtained by Oxygen.com.
MCC has housed many of the country’s most notorious inmates including drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman—who once called the prison the “most inhumane situation” he had ever lived in—Wall Street fraudster Bernie Madoff, and mob boss John Gotti.
But for years, inmates, lawyers and judges have bemoaned the crumbling conditions inside the federal Manhattan complex.
“The MCC has been a longstanding disgrace,” David E. Patton, the attorney in chief at Federal Defenders of New York told The New York Times following the closure announcement. “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.”
There have also been accusations of lax security at the large facility, lapses that might have contributed to how Epstein, a convicted child sex offender, was able to hang himself in his jail cell on Aug. 10, 2019.
Two federal corrections officers who had been assigned to check on Epstein browsed the internet, slept and falsified records saying they had performed the required inmate counts, even though they hadn’t, according to an earlier statement from the Department of Justice.
During his stay at the federal jail, Guzman—who famously escaped prison twice in Mexico—publicly panned the conditions within the facility.
“It’s been torture, the most inhumane situation I have lived in my entire life,” he said in 2019, according to CNN. “It has been physical, emotional and mental torture.”
In April of this year, federal Judge Colleen McMahon referenced the jail’s deteriorating conditions while sentencing a defendant, saying her inability to do anything about the conditions at MCC and the nearby Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center during her five years as chief judge made her the “craziest.”
“There is no excuse for the conditions in those two institutions,” she said, according to The New York Times, adding that the facilities were “run by morons.”
The decision to close down the facility comes week after Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco toured the complex to see the conditions inside the jail for herself, NPR reports.
"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," the statement from the Department of Justice said of the decision.
Officials have not said where they plan to send the 233 inmates who are currently housed at the facility, most of whom are awaiting trial, according to The Associated Press. The facility typically holds a population of around 600, but those numbers have dwindled as the condition of the jail has worsened over the years.
Complaints have been made that the jail was infested with mice, rats and roaches and that toilets leaked water and feces, the news outlet reports.
The facility has also been plagued by the spread of coronavirus and was forced to go into lockdown last March when there were reports that a gun had been smuggled into the facility, Fox News reports.
Officials have also not given a timetable for when they expect the repairs to be complete, but Jack Donson, a former official at the Bureau of Prisons, told The Associated Press it could take years for the jail or re-open, which may also never happen, he said.
“It’s been a long time coming addressing the infrastructure issues,” he said. “It is coincidental with the recent publicity of the Epstein suicide and the rampant corruption in that facility? It makes sense to maybe start anew.”
The Department of Justice said in its statement that the “deactivation” process is already underway and the office will provide further updates about the progress and plan forward as the process continues.
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