Jailed IMF boss on suicide watch

IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn in Manhattan's Criminal Court, New York. Photo / AFP
IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn in Manhattan's Criminal Court, New York. Photo / AFP

Guards at New York City's massive Rikers Island jail complex are taking unusual precautions to make sure IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn doesn't come to any harm behind bars.

The 62-year-old banker and diplomat has a whole jail wing to himself, a medical device to make sure he doesn't stop breathing during the night and guards checking him 24 hours a day to make sure he doesn't kill himself.

Since his arraignment yesterday on charges that he tried to rape a hotel maid, Strauss-Kahn has been held at Rikers Island, home to thousands of prisoners serving short sentences or inmates awaiting trial.

Because of his stature, Strauss-Kahn has been assigned to a facility at the jail that normally houses inmates with very contagious diseases, like measles or tuberculosis.

Department of Correction spokesman Stephen Morello said Strauss-Kahn has been placed in a wing with about 14 cells, all of which are empty except for his.

He has his cell to himself, and there is a toilet and sink in the cell.

He takes his meals there as well, with breakfast at 5am, lunch at 11am and dinner at 4pm or 5pm.

All inmates arriving at Rikers Island are given a mental health assessment to determine whether they might pose a suicide risk.

Norman Seabrook, president of the union that represents corrections officers, said Strauss-Kahn did or said something during that evaluation that made doctors concerned. As a result, he is being monitored day and night.

A law enforcement official confirmed that Strauss-Kahn had been placed on a suicide watch.

The official, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of prisoner medical information, said Strauss-Kahn had not tried to harm himself and appeared to be in good condition.

Seabrook said Strauss-Kahn has also been issued a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine, or CPAP, because he suffers from sleep apnea, a common condition that can cause a person to stop breathing for short periods during the night. The patient wears a mask that delivers extra air while they sleep.

Morello said Strauss-Kahn will be free to leave his cell from time to time and wander the wing, and can leave the building for an hour each day for recreation outdoors, if he chooses. When he does, he will be accompanied by guards and won't encounter other inmates.

As a pre-trial detainee, Strauss-Kahn isn't required to wear a prison uniform. He may bring his own clothing and wear what he chooses in his cell, whether it be designer suits, or something more casual.

There are two exceptions: First, he has had to give up his shoes. All prisoners are required to wear standard-issue, lightweight, slip-on sneakers (although he is allowed to don regular dress shoes for court appearances, if he wishes).

Secondly, to see visitors, he is required to put his civilian garb aside and don a grey jumpsuit, specially designed without pockets or other hiding places where contraband could be stashed.

Prisoners at Rikers Island are not given an inmate number like in the movies, but are identified by a statewide criminal justice system code that sticks with them for life, even if they are incarcerated later somewhere else. Strauss-Kahn's NYSID number is 09132366L.

- AP

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