Events like Jeffrey Epstein’s death tempt us to actively seek malfeasance. Absent compelling material evidence, however, this is unwise. As disappointing as this may be for the “arkancide” crowd, a careful application of Bayesian logic, tempered by Hanlon’s razor, would suggest that Epstein’s death was indeed, most likely a suicide.
For those in federal custody, the rate of deaths by suicide is equal to that of all other non-disease related deaths combined.
Death in federal custody is a rare event, inviting speculation about exceptional circumstances — often to the exclusion of more conventional explanations. While it is certainly more exciting to discuss the possibility of foul play in Epstein’s death, it is not a compelling explanation absent direct evidence. The chances of non-disease death by anything other than suicide in Epstein’s case is more significant than zero, but vanishingly small. Until investigators disclose confirmed details, we should treat the position that the simplest explanation involves foul play with skepticism.
For those in federal custody, the rate of deaths by suicide is equal to that of all other non-disease related deaths combined. Not only does this statistic account for accidents and homicides, it includes inmates who have gone missing from custody and are presumed dead. People convinced that suicide under surveillance in federal custody is impossible should give serious thought to the 37 inmates who, quite literally, vanished from that same custody between 2001 and 2014.
Other factors weigh heavily in favor of suicide in the case of Epstein. Among those accused of pedophilia, the suicide rate is a staggering 183 times that of the general population. That probability rises significantly after a previous attempt at suicide. Prior attempts are among the most significant predictors of future suicide, increasing the likelihood of death by suicide to 38 times that of the general population. In all probability, then, Jeffrey Epstein’s most formidable enemy was himself.
Despite needing clearance from the program coordinator for suicide prevention, Epstein was the person most in control of his being removed from suicide watch. After an inmate ceases to show signs of imminent danger of self-harm, within 72 hours, it is common practice to remove them from suicide watch. Had Epstein not wanted to commit suicide, all he needed to do was voice concern that he might self-harm, which would have been sufficient to keep him under close observation. After 72 hours, he would have been transferred to a medical unit for just this purpose.
Where negligence is sufficient to explain an event, we should refrain from attributing that event to malice without direct evidence.
If he feared for his life at the hands of others, it was in his power to ensure he remained under continuous supervision. Conversely, if his goal were to kill himself, manifesting behavior that might allow him to be withdrawn from suicide watch would have been a necessary prerequisite.
Where negligence is sufficient to explain an event, we should refrain from attributing that event to malice without direct evidence. In the case of MCC employees, we now know there was negligence when officers failed to perform their regular security checks. That particular facility is operating at less than 70% staffing, and both officers on duty were working overtime. Under those conditions, it is not a question of if lapses will occur, but when. While this is in every way unacceptable, it is explainable. Assembling an “innocent” explanation of why Epstein could commit suicide need not extend further than pointing to the two overworked guards who were on duty at the time of his death.
Admittedly, Epstein’s enemies are powerful. But to overcome the facts just described, one would have to believe that this increased his chances of an orchestrated death by an exponential amount. Even allowing for this possibility, that would only put it on par with the likelihood of suicide for someone in his particular position. We should learn something from Russiagate concerning the probability of conspiracy theories being true.
Above all, we should not be afraid to take the unpopular stance of waiting for evidence — saving the intrigue for that murder mystery novel we (well, I) have been itching to write.
Aaron Lockhart is a freelance writer, information security specialist, and former correctional officer.