Medical Abuse/Neglect and Suicide





Inmate, 31, commits suicide in prison cell

A 31-year-old inmate was found hanging in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley on Saturday night, the second suicide by an inmate at the facility in as many months.

Advocates for inmates again condemned the Department of Correction for failing to act quickly enough to make changes designed to prevent suicides in state prisons.

Russ Dagenais, formerly of Lynn, was found in the segregation unit at 7:13 p.m. by a correction officer and a nurse delivering medication during a round, said Diane Wiffin, spokeswoman for the Department of Correction . Dagenais had been placed in the segregation unit after a verbal altercation with an inmate in the facility's kitchen earlier that day. He had been in the cell for about six hours, Wiffin said.

Officials at the jail performed CPR and requested an ambulance, which transported Dagenais to UMass Memorial HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster, where he was pronounced dead just after 8:30 p.m.

Before he was placed in the segregation unit, Dagenais was screened for physical and mental health and cleared by UMass medical staff, which screens inmates for the department, Wiffin said.

On Jan. 29, 2006, Mark Cunningham, 37, a convicted rapist, was found hanging from an electrical cord in his cell at the Shirley facility. Cunningham had been transferred to a cell in the segregation unit days earlier.

Dagenais's suicide was the first since the release of a report by Lindsay M. Hayes, a national specialist in prison suicide prevention, that criticized the department's handling of inmates at risk for committing suicide.

Between 2005 and 2006, 10 inmates killed themselves in state prisons and another prisoner was left brain dead by a suicide attempt.

Since the report was issued last month, Wiffin said the department has made some improvements, including implementing 15-minute guard rounds instead of 30-minute rounds.

"We are moving forward and are committed to the full implement of the Hayes recommendations," Wiffin said during a telephone interview last night.

The death also followed a federal lawsuit that the Disability Law Center filed on Thursday against the Department of Correction after a yearlong investigation during which advocates questioned inmates in segregation units at Souza-Baranowski and MCI-Cedar Junction. The suit alleged that Massachusetts has ignored repeated calls from its mental health providers and consultants to stop segregating mentally ill prisoners and demanded that the state build maximum-security residential treatment units.

"These prisoners are subjected to horrific conditions, which cause them to harm themselves significantly and all too often in a fatal manner," said Stanley Eichner, the law center's executive director.

University of Massachusetts medical staff had screened Dagenais and cleared him to go to the isolation unit, according to a statement from the Department of Correction.

Members of a state inmate advocacy group said last night that the suicide was a tragic death that system could have done more to stop. "Sadly, this is yet another preventable death in segregation and in the Department of Corrections," said Leslie Walker, director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services.

Copyright 2007 The Boston Globe

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     Last Updated on Wednesday August 29, 2007.