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DOJ reports the contributing factors that lead to Jeffrey Epstein's suicide in jail

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We turn to a new report from the U.S. Justice Department's inspector general. Disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in federal custody in 2019, and this new report sheds light on the events leading up to his death and what went wrong. The inspector general strongly criticizes the officials involved in monitoring Epstein while he was in jail and cites several specific failures that led to the suicide. NPR's Jaclyn Diaz has been going through the report, and she's here in the studio. Hi there.

JACLYN DIAZ, BYLINE: Hi.

SHAPIRO: Epstein was suspected of sex trafficking. Remind us of what else we need to know about what landed him in jail.

DIAZ: So yeah, taking a step back, Jeffrey Epstein allegedly ran a sex trafficking ring involving young girls. He was jailed in July 2019 in connection with federal sex trafficking charges and was awaiting trial in New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center, or MCC. But a little over a month after he arrived in jail, he committed suicide. Epstein's wealth and connections made him a high-profile inmate, and he was supposed to be under close watch, so there were a lot of questions about what happened after he died.

The DOJ's inspector general opened an investigation to find out exactly what went wrong. As those questions lingered, though, the circumstances of Epstein's death also led to conspiracy theories to spread, especially from the far right, and that's due in part to his alleged ties to rich and prominent people.

SHAPIRO: And so what did the inspector general report find when it comes to those questions and conspiracy theories?

DIAZ: So in response to those conspiracy theories, the report makes it clear that Epstein was not murdered. He killed himself. Aside from that, the report is pretty aggressive in its criticism of the Metropolitan Correctional Center and the Bureau of Prisons. MCC is the New York jail that Epstein died in, and Epstein was under Federal Bureau of Prisons custody. The inspector general says negligence, misconduct and poor staff performance all contributed to Epstein killing himself. The IG found serious staffing issues, for one. One guard at MCC worked for 24 hours straight because there weren't enough people to work, and the IG reported security cameras didn't work. The report suggests that Epstein also got special treatment. Pictures of his cell showed piles of what looked like clothes on his bed and floor. He wasn't supposed to have extra clothes or bedsheets, and he later used those sheets to hang himself. Epstein was also meant to be housed with a cellmate because of an earlier suicide attempt. That didn't happen either. At least two officers who were supposed to check in on Epstein throughout the night didn't. On top of that, guards on duty falsified records and lied to investigators about what happened and what they knew.

SHAPIRO: Hmm. So is there anything unusual about these findings?

DIAZ: So the thing is, the same issues with staffing, broken cameras and misconduct mentioned in relation to Epstein are the exact same problems that have persisted at the BOP for more than a decade. The BOP says it knows these are recurring issues and that they are working on it. The jail where Epstein killed himself has been shut since 2021. It's unclear when it will reopen. The two officers that were supposed to do checks on Epstein and then didn't did face criminal charges, but their prosecution was later deferred. Two other staffers at MCC were referred for criminal charges, but prosecutors in New York decided against pursuing a case. Clearly, though, there's still a lot to be done.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Jaclyn Diaz, thank you.

DIAZ: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And if you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline - just those three digits, 9-8-8. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.