Monday, December 15, 2014

The Final Hours Of Local Inmate 1970-2014

For some, jail may feel like entering Dante's Inferno
Little is known of the 44-year-old African-American male found dead in his cell at 10:10 am Sunday, December 7, hanging from the ceiling of his solitary cell.

What we do know is that this individual was arrested and brought to jail on an assault and battery charge on the Friday just prior to his death. This is the worst day of the week to be apprehended, since one may have to wait until Monday to be classified and placed in regular population.

After being processed, all belongings are taken from an individual and he or she waits to see the magistrate, who has an office on the first floor of the jail. This official, a minor judicial officer, determines whether bond can be set or whether that should be determined at a later bond hearing in court--usually the next day except in the case of a weekend or holiday. In this case, Monday would have been the earliest possible date for such a hearing.

This inmate was detained because bond was either denied or delayed, or was set by the magistrate but the inmate was unable to find anyone on the outside willing to pay a bondsman the required 10% fee. Bondsmen are available on a 24-hour basis, and are there to cover the cost of the bond based on the magistrate's judgement as to the seriousness of the crime and/or the likelihood of the person being a flight risk. If bond is set at $3000, for instance, a $300 payment to the bondsman is required for release. No legal representation is available at this step in the process.

In this case the arrested individual, unable to secure bond release but not yet charged with a crime (and by law presumably innocent until proven guilty), would have been moved to a holding cell in the basement level of the facility. Though this area is typically very cold, one is not given  a blanket, sheet or mattress, and here one may have the company of numerous recently arrested persons going through withdrawal from alcohol or drug abuse.

Usually sometime between midnight and 4 am the following morning one is stripped, showered, given  an orange jumpsuit to wear and eventually taken upstairs to see a nurse for a brief check over. If one is on some kind of psychotropic medication, such may be denied or withheld until a later time when the Nurse Practitioner from the Community Services Board (who spends three hours a week at the jail) can write a new prescription from an approved list. Detox medications are normally not provided, and even some meds for severe anxiety or schizophrenia may be denied.

After seeing the RN on duty one is given a tub of basic hygiene items, some writing materials, sheets and a blanket and is put into a classification unit.  These are single cells with a mattress on a steel cot built into the wall. The solid metal door has a tray slot for food and a little lift up door officers open to look in during their rounds, made every 30 minutes to an hour. No counselor or chaplain is available.

This classification cell represents a form of solitary confinement. One has no access to a phone or to any other human contact. After hours in segregation one is praying to be placed in a pod and to get out of this small steel enclosure.

In this case the inmate's level of suicidal distress and despair, apparently not detected by the nurse as putting his life at risk, led him to take a sheet and hang himself between the rounds made by the officer in charge.

I know the good people who work in the jail are overworked and underpaid, but this inmate's death clearly reminds us of our community's need to provide better treatment, including mental health and chaplain services, for people we incarcerate.

In addition, our jail bond system appears to need reform, according to the recently issued Moseley report, as well as our needing to have a more careful screening take place at intake and generally providing a more humane and less isolated environment for detainees. Building a secure detox and treatment center, perhaps one located on the RMH campus, may be the more appropriate option for many who are now brought directly to jail.

We need to do everything possible to ease despair and prevent suicides in our jail. This gentleman's life should not have ended this way. He should have been able to have his day in court and to be assured of a chance for a new and better life.
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