The real scandal is that the horrors of MCC have existed for decades, hidden in plain sight. The journalist Aviva Stahl published a searing expose last year in Gothamist on conditions at MCC that documented the filth, rodents, overflowing sewage, deeply substandard medical care, wrenching isolation, and the often indifferent—and at times, cruel—staff. From reports from lawyers and people imprisoned there, to the legal motions they have filed attempting to mitigate the inhumane conditions, to the hundreds of administrative remedies prisoners have filled out to request remediation (the first step prisoners must take to document problems with their conditions), to the research of scholars and human-rights organizations, the abusive and corrupt conditions at MCC are well documented.
But a broad swath of public officials, from the attorney general on down, have chosen to countenance these conditions—and major news organizations haven’t pressed the issue. As attention finally came to the despicable conditions at Rikers, few journalists looked across the river to MCC. Perhaps many labored under the misapprehension that while state and local (and private) jails might be mismanaged, abusive, and decrepit, the federal government runs a largely rights-respecting, clean operation. On top of this, the federal government—and the Bureau of Prisons in particular—makes it supremely difficult to investigate its prisons and jails, constantly throwing up justifications for denying access to the materials researchers want (“too burdensome”, “ national security”, “privacy”, “internal agency workings”) and shrouding their practices in secrecy .
When news about MCC reaches the public, it typically comes in sensational stories about alleged mega-criminals like Epstein, Sammy “the Bull” Gravino, or Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman being held there—the crimes with which they are charged completely obscuring the jail itself.