Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has
Better mental health care screening and more training ought to be implemented to end a spike of suicides at the Nassau County jail.
That much seems clear from a review of four New York State Commission of Correction reports on the deaths of four inmates at the facility since January 2010.
A fifth inmate, Bartholomew Ryan, a Marine and veteran of the war in Iraq, killed himself at the jail last month.
What is going on?
Last week, John Jaronczyk, president of the Sheriff Officers Association, the correction officers' union, blamed the deaths on budget cuts that curtailed training and decreased the number of supervisors.
But a look at the Commission of Correction reports highlights other issues in the jail as well.
Two of the four earlier suicides may have been preventable, according to the commission.
The death of Eamon McGinn, 32, who hanged himself Jan. 3, 2010, was "a preventable death with inadequate provision of medical and mental health care," the commission's medical board said.
One year to the day later, Darryl Woody, 44, hanged himself at the jail. The commission, which looks at every jail death, determined that Woody had received "grossly inadequate psychiatric care" in the jail and at Nassau University Medical Center's now-closed prison ward.
The commission determined that Gasparino Godino, 31, who hanged himself Oct. 10, 2010, within a day of being admitted, "was clearly at risk for suicide attempt throughout his incarceration."
Yet, the commission found that when Godino was placed on a floor where officers made 15-minute rounds, his mental health condition "was not made clear to the assigned officer . . . There are no posted orders specific to the assigned officer's duties and responsibilities respecting mental health observation."
The commission also recommended better mental health care screening in the case of Herve Jeannot, 29, who hanged himself on Oct. 27, 2010.
In three out of the four cases, the commission cited issues with the way the jail handled prisoners with mental health issues. Yet, the rise in suicides continued with Ryan, 32, who hanged himself on Feb. 24.
What is going on?
The jail has made some changes, officials said. But clearly there is room for more training and tighter screening.
Handling inmates is no easy job. And there's no definitive way to determine who may or may not attempt suicide -- especially in a high-stress facility that houses a range of defendants from those unable to make bail to those serving short sentences or awaiting transfer to state prison.
But there are ways to better assess risk and monitor at-risk inmates more carefully. They are likely cheaper than fighting lawsuits against the facility likely to come as a result of the deaths.
Even after five suicides, the county remains steadfast against appointing a charter-mandated board of visitors, an advisory panel for the jail.
Yes, the board has remained dormant through two prior county executives. And county officials say that other agencies already duplicate the board's mission.
At this point, however, the jail could do with a few more eyes on the operation.