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May 17, 2011

"IMF head on suicide watch at NYC jail as he adjusts to life behind bars"

The title of this post is the headline of this latest AP update on the highest-profile sex offense case in the world right now (and perhaps ever?).  Here are some interesting excerpts:

Guards at New York City’s massive Rikers Island jail complex are taking unusual precautions to make sure IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn doesn’t come to any harm behind bars.  The 62-year-old banker and diplomat has a whole jail wing to himself, a medical device to make sure he doesn’t stop breathing during the night and guards checking him 24 hours a day to make sure he doesn’t kill himself....

Since his arraignment Monday on charges that he tried to rape a hotel maid, Strauss-Kahn has been held at the city’s massive Rikers Island jail complex, home to thousands of prisoners serving short sentences or inmates awaiting trial. Because of his stature, Strauss-Kahn has been assigned to a facility at the jail that normally houses inmates with very contagious diseases, like measles or tuberculosis....

As a pre-trial detainee, Strauss-Kahn isn’t required to wear a prison uniform. He may bring his own clothing and wear what he chooses in his cell, whether it be designer suits, or something more casual.  There are two exceptions: First, he has had to give up his shoes.  All prisoners are required to wear standard-issue, lightweight, slip-on sneakers (although he is allowed to don regular dress shoes for court appearances, if he wishes). Secondly, to see visitors, he is required to put his civilian garb aside and don a gray jumpsuit, specially designed without pockets or other hiding places where contraband could be stashed.

Prisoners at Rikers island are not given an inmate number like in the movies, but are identified by a statewide criminal justice system code that sticks with them for life, even if they are incarcerated later somewhere else.  Strauss-Kahn’s NYSID number is 09132366L.

May 17, 2011 at 09:49 PM | Permalink


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I think in this instance it may have been wise for the NYPD to have avoided the 'perp walk'.

Posted by: Rob | May 17, 2011 10:07:53 PM

I see the transformation into victim has already begun, as predicted.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 18, 2011 12:12:35 AM

Bill: The victim was West African, Muslim, and the mother of a 15 year old. His judgment has to be a bit off, if indeed he is guilty of a sexual assault.

I think the French should arrest an elevated American official on trumped up charges, for a future exchange. The French invested parsing, and the lawyer gotcha.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 18, 2011 7:02:11 AM

Perp walks disgust me. They are purposely designed to create the aura of guilt around someone who is, in the eye of the law, presumptively innocent.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 18, 2011 8:20:37 AM

This is really shocking. He was considered to be next president of France.

Posted by: Lynda, safety report | May 18, 2011 9:53:25 AM

Marc --

Arrest is a public event, but the perp walk is bush league. If the defense lawyer is on the 5 o'clock news calling you a cheater and a Nazi, well, that's the way some of them behave. But the prosecutor ought to act with the dignity that befits his office.

The power to put someone in jail should be exercised in a culture of restraint, and the perp walk is not consistent with that culture. The prosecutor should be unrelenting in court, and unheard from outside (at least until the case is over).

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 18, 2011 10:39:38 AM

Equally damning is the use of courtroom cages. Nothing like filling a courtroom with media for a bail hearing with the defendant there in stripes and *caged* within the courtroom while the cameras roll.

Posted by: anonymous | May 18, 2011 11:51:25 AM

Bill, aren’t there some federal districts where they do perp walks wherever they possibly can? I believe Rudy Giuliani practically made a career out of them.

I have heard of cases where the defense attorney practically begged the government to allow the client to turn himself in, and the government wouldn’t allow it, because the prosecutor wanted a televised arrest and perp walk.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 18, 2011 12:30:50 PM

Marc --

I must confess how over the hill I am. I haven't been in the USAO for 12 years, and even when I was there (in the EDVA), I didn't know that much about the internal procedures of other offices, except for sentencing (since I was on the AG's Advisory Subcommittee on the then-mandatory Sentencing Guidelines). So I don't know the answer to your quesiton. In general, federal practice is more rule-driven, think-within-the-box and formal than state practice.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 18, 2011 4:33:57 PM

Much like the alcohol swab before an execution, the suicide watches have always baffled me.

If a person wishes to take their own life, then that is their choice and should be their right.

Whether a person is arrested for some petty misdemeanor or a top tier felony, the attitude from the general public has reached a level where any criminal who dies is seen as a good thing. The commentary and debate for that though is best reserved for another time and place though.

Getting back to the issue at hand though, why have suicide watches? I can understand caring for a prisoner if there is a medical issue. Such as an assault from a fellow inmate, an officer, or if a prisoner requires treatment for diabetes, heart issues, etc. I see no such problem from suicide. The death comes at the inmates own hands. Therefore I see no liability on the prison.

Is it an issue of not wanting the justice system to be cheated out of a piece of meat? Perhaps some other policy with a religious foundation?

It still boils down to a the person's individual choice. Regardless if the person is innocent or guilty, so long he does no harm to others, we should respect their wishes if they choose suicide.

Posted by: Questions Authority | May 18, 2011 7:21:51 PM

Questions Authority:

The authorities may call it a suicide watch but it's really a case of them protecting their asses. At this stage of the game they don't want this guy dying in custody for any reason.

Posted by: Rob | May 18, 2011 8:22:41 PM

Questions: The prison has control of the body of the prisoner. That is the theory of ruinous suicide litigation. It has established a zero level of suicide as a standard of due care for jails and prisons. Thank the lawsuit happy lawyer for that protocol.

Here is a protocol on suicide prevention behind bars, describing a national standard:


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 19, 2011 12:45:09 AM


There's no fool like an old fool. If you are 12 years removed from the DOJ, you are talking ancient history.

You didn't know about perp walks?

Propaganda (setting the table), has become the established operating method for politicians and prosecutors.

Look at how disgusting the defendent looks. I am sure that many LE picture takers wait until the defendent is absolutely exhausted.

I have a very minor challenge for you. Look at the number of pictures of average Joe's which apppear in your local news when they are charged with a crime.

When a member of LE is charged with a crime, count the number of times in the local press you see their picture.

In a number of jurisdictions, this is due to LE union negotiations. Why?

We are not as smart as we think, and the USSC is the absolute worst as a fascist apologist.

Posted by: albeed | May 19, 2011 10:55:28 PM

Questions Authority,

There are several reasons for suicide watches. The most obvious, and already mentioned, is the lawsuit factor.

This includes, especially in county lockup where being in prison is a new and overwhelming experience, temporary depression caused by the incarceration. Going to jail and looking ahead at years of prison can drive almost anyone to suicide. That is why county lockups have higher suicide rates than state prisons.

Not protecting an inmate at this point would be like allowing your teenage boy to do the same a day after his girlfriend broke up with him. On that basis alone, allowing suicide for temporary depression is inhumane. The jackal lawyers would be all over it.

Also, it is clear that you are coming at it from the "It's his life" point of view. Well, not really. Once you become a ward of the state, it all changes. Prison staff that have consensual sex with an inmate can be charged with rape, because the inmate does not have the right to make such a decision. Even free people cannot legally choose suicide, allowing a ward of the state to do it is never going to happen.

Finally, this is why it is very difficult to comment on a world that most have very little knowledge of. Prisons/jails have issues to deal with that you just do not know about unless you have spent a considerable amount of time there. Inmates are the most conspiratorial part of our society. I was at one maximum security facility built on the grounds of an old army depot. At the same time, a considerable portion of the inmates believed the following: A) They were made to wear green because it was a military color and when al qaeda bombed us, they would bomb the prison thinking it was a military institution; B) the white deer on the grounds (a present from a Finnish politician to the local congressman) were the result of nuclear radiation; C) the same radiation was causing the worms to come up to the surface when it rained; D) the large Amish/Mennonite community in the area were all drug dealers. No, I am not kidding.

How does this relate? Suicides are a tricky business in prison. One always results in conspiracies that the guards murdered the inmate and made it look like a suicide. Although Frenchy would probably not draw much scrutiny from the inmates, the suicide of a popular or controversial inmate is a HUGE security concern to prison administration.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 20, 2011 11:37:22 AM

TarlsQtr --

There is no insight better than that provided by someone who's seen it firsthand. Thanks for an illuminating post.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 20, 2011 11:56:08 AM

i'm going to have to give TarlsQtr this one. hit it right on the head. Plus considering we are talking about france here. the state is stuck! No matter what they do or don't do the french are goona scream!

It's not been nearly long enough for them to forget the calif's and the us's stunt with polaski!

Posted by: rodsmith | May 20, 2011 9:49:52 PM

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