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Only an overhaul will help fix at Nassau jail problems

Five Nassau County jail inmates died in custody

Five Nassau County jail inmates died in custody in 2016. The jail's medical provider, Armor Correctional Health Services, was criticized by a state agency for its inmate medical care standards. Officials: Jail inmate dies; marks 5th custody fatality | 12 inmates who died at Nassau's jail since 2011 Credit: Howard Schnapp

In 2012, former Marine Bartholomew Ryan, 32, was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated on drugs. A screening performed at the Nassau County jail showed the Iraq War veteran, who had struggled with drug addiction, bipolar disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, was suicidal.

Then, hours later, Ryan hanged himself in his cell.

Wednesday a federal jury found that Nassau and the health care provider at its jail were liable for the death, awarding Ryan’s estate nearly $8 million, with the county owing $370,000 and Armor Correctional Health Services responsible for the balance. But many questions remain.

Ryan’s was just one of at least four inmate deaths since Armor took over care at the jail in 2011 in which treatment was inadequate, according to the state Commission of Correction. And even before 2011, when the Nassau University Medical Center cared for inmates, there were also many deaths, prompting federal oversight of both the jail and inmate medical care for years. In a 12-month period in 2010 and 2011, four inmates committed suicide.

Why was Ryan, with no history of violent crime, in jail on $5,000 bond, instead of a hospital or a treatment facility? Having failed a suicide screening, why did he have a bedsheet he could use to hang himself? What oversight is provided to inmates who are suicide risks?

These questions persist and raise issues about our criminal justice process as well as the medical care at the jail. History shows changing the health care provider, as the county is preparing to do, won’t fix the problem. A holistic overhaul of who is confined to the jail and why, and how they’re cared for and overseen, is needed. — The editorial board

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