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AP wins exclusive access to notorious federal jail in NY

The Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York is seen from a courtroom at the Manhattan Federal courthouse, Friday, March 12, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

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Following up on their exclusive reporting about the closure of the federal jail in Manhattan where Jeffrey Epstein killed himself, reporters Michael Balsamo and Michael Sisak used source work and determined negotiations to get rare, exclusive access inside the facility, reporting first-hand about the structural mess and squalid conditions.

The AP pair has virtually owned coverage of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. AP’s exclusive reporting has exposed massive staffing shortages, a superspreader event, lax coronavirus regulations, problems with wardens, escapes and the impending closure.

Still, they wanted more. Previous requests had been denied, but Balsamo and Sisak relied on years of deep source work and weeks of negotiations with the Justice Department and the BOP, finally winning access inside the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan and the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where a majority of the inmates will be moved.

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The federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, Aug. 13, 2019. – AP Photo / Mary Altaffer

Balsamo, AP’s lead Justice Department reporter who was the first journalist to cover the resumption of federal executions, came away from MCC with details like: “One cell is off-limits because the door is now unstable — likely because of the constant pounding over the years from the prisoners inside on the cinder block walls.”

New York-based law enforcement reporter Sisak also reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents and judicial orders that detailed the conditions inmates had faced and how judges believed that conditions at MCC were so harsh that defendants should receive time off their sentences. And he researched the history of the building, pulling old advertisements and announcements to show how it was touted as a new kind of jail when it opened in the 1970s but has now become what authorities never wanted it to be.

The result was a vividly written and reported exclusive unmatched by any other news agency. The story was picked up by New York media and news outlets across the country.

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