Inmate, 31, commits suicide in
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
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
"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
"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.
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