Judge Initially Plays Pass-the-Buck with Proposal to Hire Suicide Prevention Expert
Eight prisoners have committed suicide at Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) since 2016. In response, prisoner advocate Marion Damick asked the county’s nine-member Jail Oversight Board (JOB) to hire a nationally known expert on suicide prevention.
“It’s ... just to see if something can be done, to help the warden and help the jail reduce that number [of suicides] that we have had in the past,” Damick said.
The estimated cost of hiring prisoner mental health expert Lindsay Hayes to conduct an assessment was over $18,000. Damick suggested that cost could be covered by the jail’s prisoner welfare fund, which has a balance of $2.7 million, according to County Controller and JOB member Chelsa Wagner.
However, Judge David Cashman with the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, who serves as chairman of the JOB, said he first wanted input from the county council. “I can’t go out and just purchase things willy-nilly,” he remarked. “I’m not so sure you have to spend $18,000 to reinvent your own wheel.” Cashman added, incorrectly, that the jail’s current suicide prevention policy was developed by Hayes eight years ago. He later said he had been misinformed.
Wagner responded, “Frankly, if we are just putting this over to county council, I would really say there’s no reason for this board to be here.” She added the county council already had a representative on the JOB.
Terry Klein, a former JOB member, said the oversight board was the proper agency to take up the proposal. “I think if the board doesn’t vote on this proposal, we are abrogating our responsibility to the welfare of inmates at [ACJ].”
In addition to Cashman, Wagner and Klein, the JOB includes Common Pleas Judge Dwayne Woodruff, Sheriff Bill Mullen, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, County Council President John DeFazio, Abass Kamara and Gayle Moss. The members are all appointed and not paid; the judges are appointed by the Allegheny County President Judge.
The prisoners who took their own lives while incarcerated at ACJ since 2016 include: John Orlando, 40 (2016); Jeffrey Heil, 45 (2016); Jamie Gettings, 33 (2017); Joel Velasquez-Reyes, 39 (2017); Ross Frye, 62 (2017); Alison Taglianetti, 57 (2018); and Dana Abraham, 64 (2018). Most recently, jail detainee Timothy Pauley, 34, who was facing homicide charges, committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell in April 2019. Pauley, an Army veteran, had twice been deployed to Afghanistan.
One ACJ guard, Veronica Brown, was fired for failing to conduct cell checks and falsifying log records when Gettings committed suicide during her shift. Brown has contested her termination and is seeking reinstatement, filing a petition in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas on September 27, 2018.
County officials announced in February 2019 that they will issue a request for proposals to hire a suicide prevention consultant to assess the jail’s policies and procedures.
Sources: post-gazette.com, pennrecord.com
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