Rice: Suicides show Nassau jail needs review

Nassau County jail in this undated file photo.

Nassau County jail in this undated file photo. (Credit: Newsday)

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice has called for a review of conditions at the Nassau County Jail after the fourth inmate in a year committed suicide.

Rice is the first county official to join a growing number of state officials and advocates who say an independent review is needed to determine why there is a disproportionate rate of inmate suicides, compared with other facilities, after none in the prior four years.

Rice spokeswoman Carole Trottere said Rice supports a "comprehensive review of what led to these incidents and she believes that the review should be conducted by an independent team or authority with an expertise in corrections and mental health."

Rice, who said she has been in contact with state and local officials about the issue, did not call for the return of the federal government, which has intervened twice before at the East Meadow jail. She said the panel should comprise correction and mental health professionals.

Other critics were more specific, saying the jail may have lapsed in its suicide-prevention protocols and mental health care since the federal government lifted a consent decree in 2005.

There were no suicides from 2006 through 2009, state records show, but four Nassau inmates killed themselves by hanging in the last 12 months. The latest one was Jan. 3 and occurred at Nassau University Medical Center, after the inmate tried to slit his wrists at the jail.

The federal government should determine if "it is an isolated incident or whether prison conditions for the seriously mentally ill contributed to his unfortunate death," said state Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Mount Vernon), past chair of the State Senate's Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction.

Hassell-Thompson joined her counterpart in the State Legislature, Jeffrion Aubry (D-East Elmhurst), and inmate advocates, such as the Nassau chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in saying the Department of Justice should step back in.

Federal officials confirmed they have been in contact with local advocates but declined to comment. Jail officials declined to comment."The NYCLU is pleased to hear that Rice is taking this seriously by suggesting an independent review panel," said Samantha Fredrickson, director of the Nassau NYCLU.

"We are fully supportive of an independent panel and would be happy to contribute our experience to the panel."

Joseph Ryan, an attorney who represented the family of Lev Lysniak, 36, who committed suicide in December 2001, said he was surprised to hear of the suicides because he had hoped that the federal lawsuit he settled with the county would spur the jail to improve suicide prevention.

Ryan, a Melville-based attorney who settled the case in May 2005, said, "One of the main objectives of the lawsuit was to prevent further suicides."

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