Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Suicides behind bars. Does anyone care?

The more information we hear about suicides behind bars, the more we become convinced that the number could be reduced.

Little attention was paid to a recent suicide at the Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center, one of the Michigan prison facilities in Jackson. That was because the young inmate who took his own life had shot and killed a state cop. Somehow, shooting a police officer is a worse crime than shooting any other citizen...and the offender is viewed as a worse criminal.

Police and prison officials are investigating, but we'll bet money that you'll hear no more of this. Some of the cops in the joint are thinking “good riddance,” and we suspect that sentiment is shared by quite a few. The thing is, the man was obviously a suicide risk. It would be hard to prove that it was by intention that he was not closely watched, but it does make one wonder. Why wasn't he on suicide watch?

We know of two suicides at the Pugsley Correctional Facility in Kingsley that some will argue could have been prevented. The stories came to us from reliable sources and were very much alike.

In the first situation, a young man had been gang-raped and asked for protection. Unfortunately there is no segregation unit (normally referred to as “the hole”) in that prison, so the staff merely sent him to a different location with no additional protection. He hanged himself.

But that wasn't the end of the story. Another young man, in the same facility in almost identical circumstances just a short time later ended his life in the same manner!

One of the witnesses to the early investigation said that when prison authorities learned the name of the person in charge at the time, the response was simply, “that figures.”

My reason for bringing up the topic is because of the most recent report of a suicide to our office. It comes from an inmate in the Richard A. Handlon prison in Ionia. Here is the report, verbatim, from our contact behind bars:

There were 2 CO's that were sitting at the officer's desk when Kevin came down from his room. He was freaking out about something. I sat and watched the 2 CO's tell him to go back to his room. What drew my attention was when he raised his arms and said he was going to "kill himself.” they responded with, "Then go kill yourself.” So he went to his room and that was the last time I ever saw him. 20 minutes later I was in my room and I heard the CO's telling us to get in our rooms over the intercom. By that time he was dead. Another inmate near his room seen them drag his body out of his room trying to work on him. Then another CO stated, "One down...many to go.”

There were 12 suicides in Michigan prisons last year, according to MDOC spokesman Russ Marlan.

I wonder how many of them could have been avoided.

I wonder if anyone cares.

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