R. Kelly has been placed on suicide watch at Brooklyn’s federal jail following his 30-year sentence for sex trafficking — and his lawyer says the disgraced R&B star has no business being there.
The 55-year-old has been alone in a cell at the Metropolitan Detention Complex since his sentencing Wednesday for a 25-year scheme in which he sexually and mentally abused fans and other young women.
Kelly’s lawyer Jennifer Bonjean told the Daily News he had prepared himself mentally for the steep prison term imposed by Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Ann Donnelly and was content in the general population.
“He was absolutely fine. He had adjusted just fine. The rank and file correctional officers understand this. They deal with him. This is higher-up policy that is deplorable,” said Bonjean, who planned to file papers Friday requesting MDC’s rationale.
“They admit that his high profile nature is one of the considerations. I’m sorry, where is the data that someone who is high profile is more likely to hurt himself? Other than the isolated Jeffrey Epstein incident, I don’t know what their data is to support anything like that,” she said.
Kelly’s complaints are similar to those of another high-profile inmate at the jail on the Sunset Park waterfront: Ghislaine Maxwell. The British former socialite, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday, has complained she’s been put on suicide watch repeatedly without justification.
A source said Friday morning that Maxwell, 60, remained on suicide watch.
Maxwell’s lawyer Bobbi Sternheim said MDC officials had subjected Epstein’s chief enabler to an “unusually harsh and punishing” term of pretrial incarceration. She said her client spent almost two years alone on suicide watch despite showing no signs of self-harm.
Maxwell’s lawyers complained repeatedly she was subjected to repeated invasive searches, monitored by a jail staffer with a camera and had a flashlight shown in her light overnight every 15 minutes, preventing her from sleeping.
“It is the greatest regret of my life that I ever met Jeffrey Epstein,” Maxwell said in court. “I have had plenty of time to think, having spent two years in solitary confinement.”
Maxwell lured teenagers as young as 14 into Epstein’s orbit beginning in the 1990s, preparing them for his repeated sexual abuse.
Epstein hanged himself in the now shuttered Metropolitan Correctional Center, creating a massive embarrassment for the Bureau of Prisons and raising alarms about conditions in federal lockups.
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Maxwell has argued that she was simply put on suicide watch to avoid a repeat of the Epstein scandal.
Both Kelly and Maxwell have fared better in MDC’s general population.
Maxwell taught English as a second language and tutored inmates to take their GED, according to court filings. One of her fellow detainees, Tatiana Vegas, wrote Judge Alison Nathan to say she found the multimillionaire, who goes by her last name in jail, “genuine and kind” and said she’d offered to teach yoga.
“It took all of us by surprise,” Vegas wrote.
Kelly connected with fellow inmates through the Hindu spiritual discipline, The News reported in November. A pencil-drawn comic book drawing included in court filings by his cellmate for two weeks, Brendan Hunt, depicted the pair talking about music and doing yoga together. Hunt was sentenced to 19 months in prison last year for threatening to kill members of Congress.
The News previously reported that Kelly had also befriended accused N train shooter Frank James. Kelly often sings, mesmerizing inmates and jail staff alike.
Neither Maxwell nor Kelly will be at the MDC for much longer. The former socialite has requested to serve her two decades at Danbury women’s prison in Connecticut. The low-security federal prison inspired the popular Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.” Kelly is set to go on trial in Chicago next month on child pornography, obstruction of justice and sexual abuse charges.