Strauss-Kahn's suicide-watch cell tiny, isolated
Under suicide watch, Dominique Strauss-Kahn wears a specially designed jumpsuit and lives in a tiny cell, monitored by a guard positioned just a few steps away, sources said Wednesday.
The 11 x 13 foot (3.3 x 3.9 meters) cell is in the West Facility of the infamous Rikers Island prison, located in Manhattan's swirling East River.
Here, Strauss-Kahn, who only a few days ago was checking into luxury suite at the Sofitel hotel in Times Square, is waiting until Friday to hear whether he'll be sent to trial on charges that he tried raping a chambermaid.
The International Monetary Fund chief -- and a man who until this scandal was seen as a potential next president of France -- is considered a suicide risk and has been placed on special guard.
Ordinarily, a suspect awaiting trial, considered innocent until proven guilty, is detained with numerous privileges, including the right to wear his own clothes and bring in possessions.
A law enforcement source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the 62-year-old VIP has been placed in an area normally reserved for inmates with contagious diseases.
That's because the layout, with cells designed to isolate prisoners as much as possible, suits the requirements in this extraordinarily high profile case.
So in that tiny space he has in addition to his bed a shower and toilet and table for eating.
And he is entirely alone. Or almost.
"There's no one else there except guards. In this case, there is a guard just a very few feet away," the source said.
Rather than being allowed to stay in his elegant executive's attire, Strauss-Kahn has been given a grey jumpsuit specially designed to minimize risks.
"With this, there are fewer opportunities to conceal things, for example," the source said.
He also has to wear slip-on shoes -- not the fine leather kind he might have worn to conferences with world leaders, but "standard issue shoes, slip-on with a crepe rubber bottom and canvas uppers. Slip on with no laces," the source said.
Laces can be used to used to hang oneself.
The French politician, who denies all charges, is allowed to exercise one hour daily outside. He also has the run of a day room where he can watch television, including the nearly non-stop news coverage of his own case.
Norman Seabrook, president of the correction officers union, said everything was being done to protect Strauss-Kahn from suicide -- and other inmates on Rikers.
Guards maintain an around-the-clock check and if he is lying down they have to be sure, even when he sleeps, whether he is breathing. If the chest cannot be seen obviously rising and falling, "we wake the inmate to determine that the inmate is still alive," Seabrook said.
According to Seabrook, Strauss-Kahn is classified as a CMC, or centrally monitored case, which means he will go to court on Friday under extraordinarily tight security.
"Every time he travels to court he will be escorted by our emergency services unit. He will be handcuffed, shackled, he will be transported in a vehicle escorted by several highly trained officers."
Seabrook said these measures and the isolation cell were ordered so that "we don't put him in any danger. We do not allow any inmates to come into contact with him. (We) protect him from anyone who may want to make a name for themselves, take a swing at him."
Officials at Rikers Island would not comment on Strauss-Kahn's state of mind or whether he is on suicide watch.
A spokesman for the New York Department of Correction said all inmates are kept under "the same protocol for the safety and security."
"The protocol dictates that every inmate is assessed for risk of harm to themselves and risk of harm to others," a statement said. "All inmate health records are confidential under the law."
Seabrook said the duty of looking after Strauss-Kahn was a massive challenge in a prison that is used to housing notorious criminal suspects, but no one of the Frenchman's political and international standing.
"We've never had to deal with someone of this level," Seabrook said. "This is a very, very high profile person... a presidential candidate of a major country that is an ally of the United States."
The State Department might ultimately have to "get involved in this to see if there is some other arrangement," he added.
© 2011 AFP