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August 14, 2019

Some fitting context for thinking about deaths while incarcerated

I have not written about Jeffrey Epstein's death while incarcerated in part because so many others are writing about it, and in part because so many other people die in jails and prisons without getting the attention and generating the scrutiny surrounding Epstein's death.  But Ken White has this new piece in The Atlantic, headlined "Thirty-Two Short Stories About Death in Prison," that provides some of the context I find fitting.  Here is how the piece gets started and a few of the stories:

Jeffrey Epstein’s name and face are everywhere following his death.  Even as an investigation reveals that the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he died, was terminally short-staffed and relied on untrained guards who failed to monitor him, conspiracy theories persist.  Americans who believe in their justice system assert that it is obvious that he was murdered, and that jailers could not possibly be so incompetent, cruel, or indifferent as to let such a high-profile prisoner commit suicide.

Here, to help you evaluate that claim, are 32 short stories about in-custody deaths or near-deaths in America.

These stories don’t mention Jeffrey Epstein, but they are about him.  Epstein was incarcerated in the United States of America, and this is how the United States of America, the mightiest and richest nation there is or ever has been, treats incarcerated people.  When you say, “There is no way that guards could be so reckless, so indifferent, so malicious as to just let someone as important as Epstein die,” this is how 32 Americans respond.  Many, many more could respond in kind....

Terrill Thomas died of dehydration in his cell in Milwaukee after jailers turned off the water to his cell for seven days. The jail was under the leadership of then-Sheriff David Clarke, a hero to law-and-order types.

Jonathan Magbie, a paraplegic in a wheelchair who needed 24-hour care, was arrested for marijuana possession in Washington, D.C., in 2008.  He required a ventilator to breathe when he slept. The jail didn’t have the facilities to care for him, and so he died in jail.

Andrew Holland died in a restraint chair in San Luis Obispo County, California.  He was strapped to the chair, naked, for two days. If you like, you can watch video of the guards laughing as medics try fruitlessly to perform CPR, though I would not recommend it.

August 14, 2019 at 01:18 PM | Permalink


Note - The author of this piece, Ken White, is a former federal prosecutor.

Posted by: Zvi | Aug 14, 2019 1:22:00 PM

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky

Posted by: Michael Levine | Aug 15, 2019 10:33:14 AM

Thank you professor for sharing this important and heartfelt piece.

Posted by: Zachary Newland | Aug 21, 2019 11:31:30 AM

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