Whether Jeffrey Epstein had languished for years awaiting trial under charges of operating a child sex trafficking ring, or whether he'd been convicted, life behind bars for the disgraced money man would have been a far cry from the private islands and majestic mansions to which he'd grown accustomed.
Rather, it would have been something akin to a living hell.
“Life behind bars for Epstein would not have been safe. Chomos are marked,” a white-collar convict who spent more than five years in the prison system at various levels and locations in the U.S. told Fox News. “The unspoken rule is that if you associate with a snitch or chomo, you are the same as them. Even snitches don’t want to associate with chomos, so they have to look out for each other and clique up.”
“Chomo” is prison slang for a child molester and, inmates and officers often claim, they are at the absolute bottom of the implied prison hierarchy.
“Chomos are definitely bottom, then snitches are targeted after them. Drug dealers, white-collar, common folk,” the former inmate said. “Bureau of Prisons (BOP) talks a good game, but you won’t ever provide a safe haven for a chomo in custody.”
Woodrow Tripp, a polygraph expert and former criminal investigations specialist at the Georgia Department of Corrections, said Epstein hypothetically would have been given little freedom for two reasons--because he was accused of child sex crimes and because he would have been regarded as a “famous person.” He would have been kept under segregation.
And, in recent years, those found guilty of such crimes have been dealt the ultimate demise behind bars.
Late last month, convicted sex offender David Oseas Ramirez was beaten and drowned in his jail-cell toilet by his cellmate in Florida’s Duval County Jail. This past January, an inmate serving a 40-year sentence for running a global child-pornography ring was slain at a Michigan federal detention center.
Two months earlier, Clinton Don Simpson – who was accused a decade earlier of abusing more than a dozen children in his backyard – was killed at the age of 76 by a fellow prisoner in Texas. In May 2018, an inmate in California jail killed an accused pedophile – telling authorities that it was his “public service.”
In 2015, a former cop in Michigan – convicted of sexually assaulting a nine-year-old girl – was strangled by his cellmate.
“He was trying to justify why he did it and I told him to keep quiet... but he continued to talk about it, try to justify it,” the cellmate testified. “So, I got down and I hit him in his face a few times. When he fell, I wrapped a cord around his neck and I took his life.”
Another high-profile prison homicide was that of former priest John Geoghan, who was strangled and stomped to death by another inmate in a Massachusetts facility in 2003.
That’s merely the tip of the iceberg.
According to the Justice Department statistics, in 2014 – the most recent data available – a total of 3,483 inmates died in state prison, 444 in federal prisons and some 1,053 in local jails. Between 2001 and 2004, 88 percent of the deaths were attributed to natural causes – with suicides, homicides, and accidents making up the bulk of the rest.
However, government data did not distinguish deaths by “commitment offense.”
A 2016 Associated Press report, focused on the California state prison system, highlighted that not only were inmates dying at a rate double the national average, but convicted sex offenders were far more likely to be killed than those convicted of other offenses.
While male sex offenders have comprised roughly 15 percent of the state’s prison population, they accounted for almost 30 percent of homicide victims behind bars.
There has been no sweeping policy regarding whether a sex offender must be placed in protective custody – also referred to as protected segregation – but it's depended on individual cases and determinations. Targeting is likely to remain an issue.
Tommy Kilbride, a law enforcement expert and a retiree of a U.S Marshals Service regional fugitive task force, concurred that federal lockup generally has been “a bit safer than most state prisons, but the rule is, pay or he will be a victim.”
“That is,” Kilbride said, “somebody’s sex slave.”
Justin Paperny, co-founder of Prison Professors – offering training and advice to those awaiting sentencing or headed into lockup – surmised that Epstein almost certainly would have gone to a high-security prison if found guilty.
“Sex offenders are vulnerable to attacks in any prison, but especially so in a high-security prison. Regardless of where he would have served his sentence, his notoriety would have resulted in his being targeted for abuse,” he explained. “The danger would have been commensurately greater if he went to a high-security prison. It is likely he would have served his sentence in protective custody.”
Even so, Francey Hakes, a child protection and national security consultant and former federal prosecutor, pointed out that while Epstein most likely would have been kept with other rapists and sex offenders – if found guilty and not issued a controversial work-release as he got in his 2008 plea deal – he still may have faced the reality that sex offenders sometimes receive “contracts” by other inmates to kill fellow sex offenders.
“It is illegal for (officers) to turn a blind eye to prison violence, but I am sure it happens. The more despicable the violation committed by the prisoner, the easier it is for them to turn a blind eye,” Hakes continued. “General population prisoners see it as a badge of honor to beat, stab, rape or kill sex offenders, especially child sex offenders. They might befriend them and get their trust, then attack.”
However, Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, a New York-based criminal defense attorney specializing in sex crimes and civil rights violations, said most issues with prison officers have resulted from them being “underpaid, overworked and poorly trained.”
“The issue is more neglect than actual rules that are enforced. Prison is a violent, dangerous, unhealthy place for all inmates,” he asserted. “Epstein was in for a world of hurt in federal custody, most likely for the rest of his life. He would have been pressured to participate in a manipulative form of sex offender treatment, ostracized and villainized and at great risk due to his wealth.”
Another Georgia-based former corrections officer also said that while most sex offenders have arrived at prison with cover stories – often claiming other crimes such as firearms charges, theft or white-collar violations including fraud – an infamous person such as Epstein never would have been afforded such anonymity.
Lenny DePaul, a retired chief inspector/commander at the U.S. Marshals Service in New York and New Jersey, underscored that Epstein may have received somewhat better treatment had he entered a plea and cooperated with U.S. officials. Had he been convicted, “life in prison would have been very tough,” DePaul said.
“Over the years, federal state and local facilities have improved their awareness of these inmates and have taken the necessary precautions to accommodate sentenced child sex offender cases – and authorities do not want any issues. It is difficult to support someone 24/7,” he emphasized. “Things happen in the yard, workout facilities and even in the chow halls that are somewhat uncontrollable.”
But just as security, surveillance and research may have improved in recent times, so too has prisoners’ adaptability.
“Inmates are now more sophisticated than before,” added Alex del Carmen, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Tarleton State University in Texas. “So, the advances we have made have been offset by the level of sophistication regarding technology.”