Report: Prison guards not negligent in Ariel Castro suicide

BY Cindy Huang  December 3, 2013 at 8:48 PM EDT

Ariel Castro is led out of a Cleveland courtroom on Aug. 1 after being sentenced to life without parole for the kidnapping and rape of three women. A month later he was found dead in his prison cell. Photo by Angelo Merendino/Getty Images

When convicted rapist Ariel Castro was found hanging by his bed sheets from his prison window on Sept. 3, he became the 10th Ohio inmate in 2013 to commit suicide. His high-profile death, coupled with the rising rate of suicides in the system, triggered prison officials to commission an independent report, the results of which were released Tuesday.

The report, written by prison experts Lindsay Hayes and Fred Cohen, found that specialized housing units that experienced suicides, like solitary confinement, were staffed by officers untrained to handle the mental health issues specific to this type of incarceration. However, the assessment concludes that the suicides could not be blamed on staff negligence.
Cohen told the PBS NewsHour that while suicide is invariably linked to mental health issues, there’s a greater relationship between prison suicide and conditions of extreme confinement.

“People do things in prison (that are) unimaginable to people on the outside because of conditions of confinement,” Cohen said.

From 2009 to 2013, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction experienced 32 suicides, increasing to a rate of 19.8 suicides per 100,000 inmates in 2013, from a rate of 7.8 suicides per 100,000 inmates in 2009, according to the report.

Ohio DRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the department is moving to train guards to look for signs of suicidal tendencies and mental health issues as well as shifting from online training modules to face-to-face modules.

“We want to train our staff to recognize somebody who is potentially suicidal and train our staff overall on suicide prevention policies and practices,” Smith said.

In the deaths of two high-profile inmates, Castro and death row inmate Billy Slagle, the report found that guards skipped routine checks and falsified logs on the days of both suicides.

To address this problem, Smith said that DRC director Gary Mohr issued supervisors to conduct random checks on guards several weeks ago to ensure they are doing their routine checks on prisoners. Despite staff missteps in those cases, the two experts did not find sufficient evidence of misconduct or negligence to conclude the two suicides “attributed to the failure of DRC staff.”

The report also cites complaints of mistreatment by guards documented in Castro’s diary. Castro wrote that guards ignored his request for clean linen, underwear and a mop to clean his toilet, and that they tampered with his food.

“I will not take this kind of treatment much longer if this place treats me this way,” he wrote on Aug. 31, three days before he killed himself. “I can only imagine what things would be like at my parent institution. … I feel as though I’m being pushed over the edge, one day at a time.”

Smith said that there were no formal complaints filed with the facilities, and thus the allegations were never investigated. These accusations are only contained in Castro’s personal writings.

Cohen said that Ohio had been the gold standard for prison mental health from 1995 to 2002, but it has decreased mental health services and programs since then due to budget cuts.

“There are fewer and fewer resources devoted to mental health (in prisons),” Cohen said.

Read the the full report below:

Ohio prison suicide report