Medical Abuse/Neglect and Suicide




Cedar Junction inmate hangs himself

Suicide is the 7th in state prisons in '06

By David Abel, Globe Staff  |  December 28, 2006

A 44-year-old inmate at MCI-Cedar Junction was found hanging from a bedsheet early yesterday -- the seventh state prison inmate to commit suicide this year and the third in the past eight days, officials at the state Department of Correction said.

There have been more suicides in state prisons this year than in the past four years combined, state records show.

The death of Glen Bourgeois of Boston marked the largest number of suicides in a state Department of Correction facility since 1997, when eight inmates killed themselves while in state custody. Last year, four state inmates committed suicide, more than in the previous seven years.

"Each incident is as specific as the individual," said Diane Wiffin, a spokeswoman for the Department of Correction. "There isn't evidence of a larger pattern. There are a unique set of circumstances for each case."

Prison advocates, however, said suicides in state prisons have spiked because correction officials increasingly segregate inmates in cells where they are confined for 23 hours a day.

Now, up to 10 percent of the nearly 11,000 inmates in state custody are in such cells on any given day, said Leslie Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, a nonprofit prisoners' rights group.

Wiffin said that only two of the seven inmates who committed suicide this year were in "segregation" cells. Of the others, one was in a general-population cell and four were in health-service units, where they are not required to stay in their cells for 23 hours a day.

But Walker said those who committed suicide this year in the health-service units were confined to their cells for 23 hours a day.

"They are hair-splitting when they say people aren't segregated if they're not in segregation-specific units -- because all of them are confined to the intolerable isolation of being in a cell for 23 hours a day," Walker said. "And that's a good day. On weekends, and if there's short staff, they can be in cells for 24 hours a day."

Not only are more inmates being subjected to isolation, she said, but inmates are increasingly subjected to a longer time in isolation. It used to be that poorly behaved inmates would serve up to 15 days in segregation cells; now inmates are often isolated for months and sometimes years at a time, Walker said.

"This amounts to a constitutional violation, because it's cruel and unusual punishment," Walker said. "They're depriving human beings of their right to social discourse. By removing them completely from touch and interaction, they're pushing them over the edge."

Wiffin acknowledged that the problem may be exacerbated by overcrowding and an increasing number of inmates suffering from mental health problems.

Many more inmates have attempted suicide. As of October, 91 state inmates tried to commit suicide this year, Wiffin said. Last year, 101 tried to commit suicide.

Bourgeois, who had been serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, was found hanging in the 10 Block of MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole, a segregation cell where previous suicides had occurred, Walker said. On Dec. 20, 2005, Nelson Rodriguez, 26, was found hanging in his segregation cell in 10 Block .

An internal investigation found that guards failed to conduct regular half-hour checks on Rodriguez. The report found no evidence that prison officials had been briefed that Rodriguez had been diagnosed with mental retardation and other mental health issues.

Bourgeois had been in a segregation cell in 10 Block since Aug. 8. For attempting to escape from the Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater. Bourgeois was "not an active mental health case," Wiffin said.

A correction officer found him at 4:34 a.m. While doing rounds, Wiffin said. He was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Norwood Hospital in Norwood.

Wiffin said officials are investigating.

Last week, Nicole Davis, 24, hung herself by a bedsheet at MCI-Framingham late Dec. 19. She had been in custody for a 30-day drug detoxification program.

A convicted murderer, Eduardo Soto, 33, also was found hanging by a bedsheet at Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater on Dec. 20.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

 2006 The New York Times Company

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     Last Updated on Wednesday August 29, 2007.