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Three Connecticut Prisoner Deaths in Four Days

The deaths of three Connecticut prisoners in a four-day period has state officials examining what went wrong.

The undetermined death of 20-year-old Dayna Ashley Charette has resulted in dissension between the Connecticut Department of Corrections (CDOC) and judicial marshals. While in a holding cell at Superior Court in Litchfield, Charette told the marshals she was not feeling well. She was taken by ambulance to the emergency room of Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington.

Charette informed hospital personnel that she was awakened at 3 a.m. at York Correctional Institution and sent to court without being given her medication; the hospital gave her the medication plus a supply to take with her.

Judicial marshals said they informed the York transport guards of Charette’s hospital stay and gave them her medication. CDOC officials, however, claim they were informed of no such thing. The next morning, September 1, 2007, Charette was found unresponsive in her cell and pronounced dead at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital.

An autopsy by a medical examiner could not determine a cause of death; further study and toxicology reports were ordered. Charette’s mother stated her daughter had serious mental health problems.

The other two CDOC deaths were apparent suicides. On August 31, 2007, Osborn Correctional Institution prisoner Michael Joly, 48, was found hanging from a sheet tied to the bars of his cell window. Joly had been serving a 60-year sentence for murder, and had been incarcerated since the late 1980s.

The other suicide occurred at York on September 3, 2007. That night, prisoner Mia Zukowski, 46, was found unresponsive in her cell, having used a bathrobe sash to hang herself. Efforts to revive her were unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead at Lawrence & Memorial.

“Our last suicide was in June 2006,” said CDOC spokesman Brian Garrett. The CDOC experienced only one suicide in 2006 after a concerted effort to reduce self-harm among prisoners, which was a considerable improvement over previous years. The Connecticut prison system experienced 7 suicides in 2005 and 9 in 2004. During 2006, prison staff successfully intervened in 153 attempted suicides.

In the wake of the three recent deaths within four days, CDOC Commissioner Theresa Lantz ordered an investigation to determine whether correct procedures were followed or improvements were needed. Investigations by the state police and the state judicial branch are also pending.

Sources: Hartford Courant, Associated Press

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