Linda Tant Miller




Statesman Journal
July 9, 2007



An Oregon State Police investigation into one inmate's death uncovered lax supervision of inmates and falsified cell check logs by officers

Oregon State Penitentiary's Intensive Management Unit, designed to tame the state's toughest convicts, has been rocked by a rash of suicidal acts by inmates in the past 2 1/2 years.

Aaron Munoz, 21, hanged himself in his cell in January 2005.

Jeremy Ayala attempted to hang himself in October. He survived, only to hang himself at a different Salem prison in May. He was 24.

And Randall James, 46, died in November after he was found bleeding in his cell from self-inflicted wounds.

An Oregon State Police investigation into James' death uncovered lax supervision of inmates and falsified cell check logs by officers.

Prison officials said recent changes in the IMU -- known as a "super max" to denote conditions beyond maximum security -- are designed to bolster inmate supervision and safety in the top-security unit.

But critics adamantly say the IMU isn't safe, especially for depressed or mentally ill inmates who can't cope with extreme isolation.

"If you didn't have psychiatric problems, it'll probably cause psychiatric problems," said Steve Gorham, a Salem defense lawyer who has represented inmates in the IMU. "And if you do have psychiatric problems, it exacerbates them."

Gorham said inmates are subjected to sensory deprivation while they are kept in their cells for more than 23 hours per day. Amplified noise that seems to bounce off concrete and steel poses a double whammy for inmates, he said.

"It's all metal cells, with metal doors," he said. "There's no insulation to suck up the noise, so the overload in IMU is just horrendous. The sensory deprivation comes in not having a lot of contact with people, being locked in that room for 23 1/2 hours a day and not being able to get outside."

Munoz brooded in his cell, said his aunt, Kelly Ann Mills of Portland. Isolation fueled his anger, she said, along with shame and depression caused by sexual abuse inflicted on him as a teenager by a juvenile parole officer.

Munoz, 21, was discovered hanging in the back corner of his "D" unit cell shortly before 9 p.m. on Jan. 28, 2005.

"When I approached cell D-12 I saw inmate Munoz standing in the back of his cell," reads a corrections officer's report. "At first I thought he was just standing there with a sheet around his neck pretending that he was hanging. I said, 'Munoz, knock it off.' When I realized that he wasn't faking, I called on the radio that we had a 'man down' and that we needed a nurse in the unit."

Emergency life-saving efforts failed.

As Mills tells it, Oregon's top-security prison unit let down its guard.

"I would think that the Intensive Management Unit is just that, intensive management, where you know what your inmates are doing," she said. "I just don't see how he could have committed suicide in a place where you're supposed to be watched 24 hours a day."

The state police, as with all prison suicides, investigated Munoz' case. The agency denied a Statesman Journal public-records request for release of the report, citing pending litigation.

Early this year, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the state in connection with Munoz' suicide. A mediation process aimed at producing an out-of-court settlement is close to being resolved, according to a state lawyer.

Mental health officials now have a say in determining which inmates get placed in the IMU, prison officials say. They described it as a measure designed to avert long stints of isolation for severely depressed or mentally ill inmates.

'Super max' developed

The IMU opened in 1991 as one of the nation's first so-called "super-max" prison units.

Costing about $10 million, the 192-bed facility was designed to take the steam out of rebellious inmates who "compromised the safety of the prison system."

Tucked away in a two-story building near the pen's northeast wall, the self-contained facility houses its own clinic, laundry, law library and exercise area.

Security protocols go to extraordinary lengths in the IMU. When an inmate leaves his cell, usually to shower or exercise, he is handcuffed, tethered with a leash and escorted by two officers.

Prison officials say the IMU has paid safety dividends by removing assaultive and disruptive convicts from the general prison population, thereby helping to keep the peace behind prison walls.

Concurring with that view is Frank Colistro, a psychologist who has worked for the prison system for almost 30 years as a private contractor and consultant.

"It took those people who are responsible for a disproportionately high level of threat to other inmates out of circulation and put them in an area where they can be controlled effectively," he said.

Gorham takes a dissenting view. "It certainly doesn't make it safer for the people who are in it, or those who for whatever reasons want to kill themselves," he said.

Like the IMU, another mini-prison within the penitentiary, the 90-bed Disciplinary Segregation Unit, also has been rocked by multiple suicides. Four inmates have hanged themselves in the DSU in the past four years.

Inmates get sent to the DSU, known to them as "the hole" or "the bucket," for violating prison rules, incidents such as fighting, dealing drugs or mouthing off to a corrections officer. They, too, can spend months in extreme isolation, locked into their cells for more than 23 hours a day.

Historically, prison officials said, monitoring of inmates in the DSU was hampered by its old-fashioned design. Corrections officers checked cells every half hour. Otherwise, direct observation into cells was limited along long tiers.

Late last month, DSU inmates moved into the IMU's high-tech cellblocks. The old segregation unit they left behind was refurbished and occupied by other inmates as part of a sweeping overhaul of the prison's segregation housing units.

As part of the makeover, 34 condemned killers on Oregon's Death Row exited the IMU building. They moved into the refurbished cellblocks in the old DSU.

Generally, Death Row inmates pose few headaches for prison managers because they rarely act up.

"Death Row actually is a pretty peaceful place," Colistro said. "Those guys rarely cause any problems because their cases are pending until the last moment of their lives. They know better than to make problems."

Corrections officials said the massive reshuffling of inmates was intended to provide better observation of the highest-risk prisoners, most notably in the IMU.

On a recent day, 114 prisoners were confined in the super-max facility. Four cellblocks make up its core. Each cellblock is controlled by an officer who sits in an elevated control station and operates the electronic switches for all the cell doors and the doors leading to each section.

Officially, it's known as a "programming" unit, where inmates can participate in anger management classes and behavior-modification programs. Inmates who conform with the program go back to the general population.

"It's known to everybody who goes in that the way to get out as quickly as possible is to keep busy, and most of them do," Colistro said.

But Gorham said some prisoners either refuse to participate or can't.

"Most of it's filling out forms, saying 'I'll be good. This (behavior) is what got me here,'" he said. "It's cognitive stuff. Some of it can be very good. But the mentally ill people there can't do it because they're mentally ill. And the people who may have done some really bad stuff can't do it because they'd be incriminating themselves."

Inmate's death retraced

Shortly after 11 p.m on Nov. 27, a corrections officer making cell checks in the IMU made a beeline to James' cell when he heard inmates yelling about "a man down," investigative reports show.

Peering into James' cell through holes in a mesh screen, the officer saw that the inmate was covered by a blanket. He observed a pool of blood on the floor and called for help on his radio.

James reportedly told a corrections officer that he cut himself because "he didn't want to live like this and that you wouldn't want to live like this."

After calling for emergency medical personnel, officers tried to stop the worst bleeding by tying a towel around James' right arm.

James shouted a profanity and raised his middle finger as he was carried out of the IMU on a gurney, a corrections officer reported. A search of his cell did not turn up any weapons.

Taken by ambulance to Salem Hospital, James died at 7:35 a.m. the next morning. Prison officials initially called it an apparent suicide.

However, an autopsy found that James' self-inflicted wounds were superficial and did not cause or contribute to his death, said Dr. Karen Gunson, the state medical examiner. Official cause of death: brady arrhythmia, a slow heart rate linked to a failure of the heart's normal electrical cycle.

"He came into the hospital with that slow heart rate and they never could get it up," Gunson said.

Had James lived, he would have faced a murder charge, according to a Marion County prosecutor.

Deputy district attorney Matt Kemmy told the Statesman Journal that strong evidence linked James to the slaying of his former cell mate, John L. Richards.

Richards, 63, was strangled to death in the general-population cell he shared with James in September 2006. James was moved to the IMU in the wake of the slaying.

Lax supervision exposed

State detectives turned up no foul play in connection with James' death.

However, they uncovered lax supervision of inmates, along with reports of corrections officers falsifying records of cell checks.

Corrections officers reportedly skipped two rounds of cell checks on the night James was found in a pool of blood.

They told detectives that they didn't have enough time to conduct the checks between 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. because they were busy with other duties, including moving inmates into cells. As they explained it, the missed checks happened several hours before James' attempted suicide.

Investigative reports released to the Statesman Journal through a public-records request indicate that corrections officers in that part of the IMU routinely skipped cell checks for dubious reasons.

One corrections officer told detectives that he and his coworkers relaxed in a training room, socializing and playing paper football games, when they were supposed to be monitoring inmates, reports show.

The same corrections officer told detectives that IMU staffers routinely falsified log reports to cover up tardy or skipped cell checks. By his account, "pretty much everyone" who worked in 'A' unit, one of four cell blocks in the IMU, falsified log records.

Two other corrections officers provided similar information about logs being altered.

No criminal charges were brought against any officers. However, an internal Corrections Department investigation delved into the officers accounts of shirked cell checks and altered logs. Administrative action is pending in the case, said Perrin Damon, a Corrections Department spokeswoman.

To iron out problems with cell checks and record keeping, prison officials said the IMU now has a card-activated system. Officers insert cards into a device to electronically record their cell checks.


Statesman Journal
July 8, 2007


Aaron Munoz seethed with anger, masking the shame that engulfed him after he was sexually abused by his juvenile parole officer.

Stanley Reger stood 6-foot-8 and weighed 250 pounds, but he cowered behind prison bars when paranoid schizophrenia filled his mind with imaginary enemies.

Jeremy Ayala was haunted by memories of his pregnant girlfriend's death. He told family members that he was going crazy.

All three men took the same drastic step to end their misery -- suicide by hanging. They became part of a troubling chain of suicides during the past decade in Oregon's prison system.

Since August 1998, 25 inmates have killed themselves. In 2001-02, a two-year period studied by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Oregon's prison suicide rate was nearly double the national average.

A Statesman Journal review of the 25 deaths found common links:

Hanging was by far the most common method of suicide; 22 inmates hanged themselves. Most used bed sheets attached to cell bars, metal grates, vents and other fixtures.

Male inmates accounted for 23 suicides.

Fifteen had known psychiatric problems, ranging from chronic mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

At least 14 killed themselves in the Disciplinary Segregation Unit or the Intensive Management Unit where inmates are confined to their cells for at least 23 hours per day.

Family members of inmates, attorneys and other inmate advocates say the death toll illustrates why prisoners with mental-health problems shouldn't be placed in extreme isolation for violating prison rules.

"Prisons respond to disciplinary issues by segregating people. If a person has a psychotic disorder, that may be the worst thing to do with him," said Robert Joondeph, the executive director of the Oregon Advocacy Center, which has represented inmates in civil rights lawsuits.

Frank Colistro, a Portland psychologist who has worked in Oregon's prison system for 28 years as a private consultant and contractor, said it's no mystery why the majority of prison suicides here and across the country occur in disciplinary segregation units.

"Segregation is to prison kind of what jail is to your community, so you're going to expect more psychopathology," he said. "You can expect that probably 75 percent of them are going to be anti-social personality types, which means among other things that they're going to be impulsive, and impulsivity is a major risk factor for suicide."

The number of suicides hasn't gone unnoticed by the Oregon Department of Corrections.

As early as 1999, prison officials sought expert advice for curbing suicides.

At that time, the DOC contracted with Lindsay Hayes, a nationally recognized suicide expert, to review five suicides clustered within a six-month period. Four of the five suicides happened in disciplinary segregation cells.

In May 1999, Hayes issued a package of recommendations, including increased suicide-prevention training for prison staff members and enhanced screening measures to identify inmates for suicide risks. He also advised against placing suicidal inmates in isolation cells.

"The use of isolation not only escalates the inmate's sense of alienation, but also further serves to remove the individual from proper staff supervision," Hayes warned.

Oregon's prison system has taken many steps recommended by Hayes in 1999 and in a more recent report, officials said.

"We're doing an increased amount of training," said Jana Russell, the prison system's new administrator of Counseling and Treatment Services. "We're really in a much better position to work together to solve this problem. It's not one of those things that is hidden anymore."

Russell formerly was in charge of mental health programs at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, which has not experienced a suicide since it opened in April 2002.

She recently replaced Arthur Tolan as head of mental health services for the entire 13,500-inmate prison system. Tolan became clinical director at the Oregon State Hospital.

Russell said her experience with prison officials and staffers who have dealt with suicides tells her that they don't take it lightly.

"It's the phone call nobody ever wants to get. I'm talking about staff, as well as the (inmate's) family," she said. "We hurt when that happens, and you start to do all the second guessing about what could have been done differently to prevent it. It's downright painful. I always think, 'What if it was my child?'"

Anguished letter to family

Jeremy Ayala wrote an anguished note to family members before he killed himself in May, becoming the 25th suicide victim since August 1998.

"Every day is hell for me," he wrote from the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem. "I just want it to stop."

His letter arrived at his parents' Salem home on May 9. Mary Ayala felt a wave of fear as she read her son's scrawled note.

The letter made her nervous, she said, because he had tried to kill himself in the state penitentiary's Intensive Management Unit in October and intentionally cut himself in his OSCI cell in early May.

Hoping to alert prison officials to her concerns about the letter, Mary Ayala made several calls to OSCI.

However, she quickly became frustrated when her calls hit voice-mail messages. She hung up, not knowing that pressing "0" would have summoned a real person at the prison. She told herself that she would try again the next day.

It couldn't wait. Late that night, Jeremy Ayala tied a bed sheet to the bars of his cell, twisted it around his neck and hanged himself.

A pre-dawn phone call from a prison chaplain awakened the Ayalas to the saddest day of their lives: Their son had been transported to Salem Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:41 a.m. May 10.

Since her son's funeral, Mary Ayala has wrestled with conflicted feelings of anger, sorrow and guilt.

"Who do I blame?" she said, her voice cracking with emotion. "A little of everybody. Me for not getting hold of anyone at the prison. Him for doing it. And them for not keeping an eye on him."

Oregon State Police are conducting an investigation into Ayala's death, a standard procedure after a prisoner suicide. The inquiry has not been completed, officials said.

Previous suicide attempt

Ayala was a repeat offender who told his mother that he wanted to turn around his life. He planned to enroll at Chemeketa Community College in Salem and become a drug and alcohol counselor or a gang counselor, she said.

Drugs, crime and tragedy demolished his good intentions.

In July 2006, his pregnant girlfriend, Haley Fitch, 28, died from a drug overdose in Hood River.

"She OD'd and died in his arms," Mary Ayala said.

In August, Ayala returned to prison to serve a 15-month sentence for being a felon in possession of a weapon. His mother said the gun charge stemmed from her son's anger over Fitch's fatal overdose and his desire to exact revenge on the alleged drug dealer. Ultimately, he didn't use a gun, but he was sent back to prison for having it.

Memories of his girlfriend's death brought nightmares and bouts of deep depression for her son, Mary Ayala said.

Anti-depression medication failed to ease his torment: "It made it worse. He kept saying his medication was making him crazy," she said.

Prison officials would not discuss Ayala's mental health history or treatment, citing confidentiality. Prison reports confirmed that Ayala tried to kill himself in October.

At that time, he was housed in the IMU, the penitentiary's top- security unit.

After midnight on Oct. 14, reports say, Ayala draped a sheet across the front of his single cell and disobeyed officer orders to take it down.

Two officers made a cell check shortly before 1 a.m. They found Ayala slumped on the floor and unconscious. A sheet was wrapped around his neck. Several empty aspirin packages were found on the floor. Officers estimated that Ayala had swallowed 50 to 60 tablets.

Ayala was carried out of his cell and placed on his side "in a recovery position." Medical personnel arrived about 1 a.m. Ayala was transported to Salem Hospital for treatment and observation.

'Time to go'

In the wake of his attempted suicide, Ayala was admitted to the Special Management Unit, a 40-bed psychiatric unit within the 2,300- inmate penitentiary.

His admitting form indicates that he was placed on a suicide watch.

Ayala stayed in SMU for five months. In mid-March, he was transferred into the general population at OSCI, a medium-security prison in southeast Salem that doesn't have a psychiatric unit.

During his last two months of tumult, Ayala bounced back to the penitentiary's psych unit for another stint of treatment, then was returned to OSCI's mainstream population. Family members said his condition deteriorated.

"He kept hearing voices," Mary Ayala said. "He imagined that people were yelling at him. He said he was going crazy."

On May 2, Ayala wound up in disciplinary segregation -- inmates call it the hole or the bucket -- for breaking two rules: possessing contraband (radio earbuds) and assaulting a fellow inmate.

A prison hearings officer sentenced Ayala to 84 days in segregation for the assault and seven days for the contraband violation.

Confined to his disciplinary cell for 23 hours a day, Ayala drew staff attention by cutting himself, records show.

"I asked Inmate Ayala if he could give me his word that he would not try to harm himself again," a corrections sergeant wrote. "Inmate Ayala said: 'You got my word, I'm all done with that.'"

At some point, Ayala scrawled his final letter to family members:

"I don't know what to do anymore. I can't fight this s--- no more. Every day is hell for me. I just want it to stop. ... I go out of my way to stay out of trouble and look what happens. ... I'm tired of being a f---up. And it's time for me to go."

Suicide linked to abuse

Shortly before 9 p.m. Jan. 28, 2005, Aaron Munoz hanged himself with a bed sheet attached to a vent in the back corner of his segregation cell in the penitentiary's Intensive Management Unit.

The 21-year-old inmate was about a week away from his prison release date.

Kelly Ann Mills of Portland, who raised Munoz from infancy, said her nephew killed himself because he was embarrassed about being sexually abused by Michael Boyles, his juvenile parole and probation officer, and because he dreaded being labeled as a snitch for testifying against him.

"One of the things he said to me is, I don't want to be known as a snitch, and I don't want to be known as a homosexual," Mills said. "In his circle, in his group, you didn't rat somebody out."

Boyles was arrested in February 2004 and charged with numerous counts of sodomy, abuse and misconduct against five boys he supervised in the 1990s.

Munoz reportedly met Boyles when he was 13 and accused of shoplifting and breaking into a state-owned car. Eventually, he was placed under Boyles' supervision for four years until 2001, when he was sent to prison for third-degree assault.

Angry and defiant, Munoz landed in the penitentiary's Intensive Management Unit, housed among the worst of the worst convicts in Oregon's prison system.

The Intensive Management Unit operates as a rigidly controlled mini- prison within the prison. High-risk prisoners are confined for more than 23 hours a day in electronically controlled cells.

When an inmate leaves his cell, usually to shower or exercise, he is handcuffed, tethered with a leash and escorted by two officers.

Mills said she thinks that keeping Munoz in extreme isolation amounted to state-sponsored abuse.

"In that kind of environment, you have no real communication with anybody," she said, "and it just gave him too much time to think. Here's this kid that pretty much got the raw end of the deal and took what he figured was his only way out."

Mills visited Munoz on the day he killed himself. She said he was in a foul mood, despite his looming release date.

"I had never seen him that angry," she said. "There really was no talking to him."

After Munoz killed himself, prosecutors dropped about 20 charges against Boyles, all connected to his alleged sexual abuse of Munoz. Prosecution of the parole officer continued, however.

In October 2005, nine months after Munoz committed suicide, Boyles was sentenced to 80 years in prison for sexually abusing four other teenage boys he supervised in the 1990s.

Wrongful death lawsuit

Oregon State Police denied the newspaper's request to release the agency's investigative report on Munoz's suicide, citing pending litigation.

A wrongful death lawsuit was brought against the state this year in connection with Munoz's suicide.

The lawsuit, filed in Marion County Circuit Court on behalf of Munoz's relatives, alleged that the penitentiary failed to provide him with adequate supervision and mental health care.

Prison officials "knew or should have known that depression can lead to suicide and that Munoz was depressed," according to the suit.

"Defendant State of Oregon also knew or should have known that Munoz had post- traumatic stress disorder as a result of his sexual abuse as a minor by a State of Oregon juvenile parole and probation officer," the suit said, "and that Munoz had, at the time of his suicide, been participating in the investigation and prosecution of his abuser which caused Munoz significant anxiety."

The suit also claimed that prison officers and managers failed to conduct sufficient checks of his cell, failed to meet staffing requirements for the Intensive Management Unit and permitted staff to "work for such extended periods of time that their effectiveness was compromised."

Mediation aimed at settling the suit is nearing conclusion, officials in the state Department of Justice said. They said no details would be made public until the case is resolved.

Prisons bulge with mentally ill

Roughly 40 percent of Oregon's 13,500 prison inmates need mental- health care, but many don't receive services, according to corrections department reports.

Most worrisome are the 11 percent known to suffer from severe and persistent mental illnesses, such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

That's nearly 1,500 inmates -- twice the number of patients housed at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, the state's largest psychiatric facility.

Reasons given for influxes of mentally ill prisoners range from surging numbers of methamphetamine-addicted criminals to gaping holes in community mental-health care for poor and low-income Oregonians.

Corrections officers and prison managers face clashing demands of tight security and treatment as they try to keep the peace in a packed prison system.

While critics say prison mental-health care is deficient, others describe it as more than adequate.

"If you want to compare it to mental health care in the community, it's way better in prison because many people in the community don't have any care other than using the ER," Colistro said.

DOC reports point to numerous shortcomings in prison mental health care. Among the problems cited by a 2004 task force appointed by Corrections Director Max Williams:

Mental-health care wasn't being provided to more than 2,000 inmates identified as being in need of such care.

With 72 psychiatric beds in the entire prison system, Oregon ranked 49th in the nation for the number of such beds.

Forty percent of all inmates in disciplinary segregation cells were mentally ill, and they were being supervised by staff members who had no mental-health training.

Mentally ill inmates frequently were moved without regard for their treatment.

Prison officials said gaps in mental-health services are being plugged with upgrades.

For example, the 2007 Legislature, which recently approved spending a record $1.3 billion on the prison system over the next two years, allocated funding to add 25 to 30 more psychiatric beds.

That infusion will raise to about 110 the total number of prison beds available for psychiatric crises, far below the 360 called for by the 2004 task force.

Suicide chain unfolds

Nearly a decade after her son Stanley Reger hanged himself at the penitentiary in Salem, Joan Nemchick of Stayton was surprised to hear about 24 ensuing suicides.

After a moment of reflection, she changed her mind.

"So many of them have mental illness, and that gets to them when they don't have any way to cope," she said. "So I guess maybe I'm not surprised."

When Reger skipped his psychiatric medication, symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia filled his brain with terrorizing delusions. He perceived enemies bent on his destruction.

On Aug. 30, 1998, the huge inmate hanged himself with a bed sheet in his general population cell at the state penitentiary. He was 50 years old.

For Reger, the penitentiary's psychiatric unit was "the one sanctuary that he had," Nemchick said. He couldn't handle regular prison routines.

His suicide came less than two weeks after he graduated from a six- month program designed to help mentally ill inmates live in the general prison population.

"He came back, and he was afraid to go to the pill line, so of course, he wasn't taking his medication and he decompensated very quickly," Nemchick said.

After her son died, Nemchick received a letter he had mailed from the penitentiary. Reger described being terrified in his general population cell, on the penitentiary's D Block.

"I'm still pretty scared, and they are still yelling at me the word, 'RAT,' and threatening to kill me -- so I'm not dead yet," he wrote.

He hanged himself the day after he wrote the letter.



Jeffrey Beers hangs himself, as did two others since August who were segregated at the state penitentiary


State authorities are investigating the third suicide of a disciplinary segregation inmate at Oregon State Penitentiary since August.

Jeffrey Beers, 22, who was serving 18 months for drug possession out of Umatilla County, killed himself five days after being admitted to the maximum security prison.

Using what has become the most common method of suicide in state prisons, Beers hanged himself Saturday night with a bedsheet tied to the top crossbar in his cell door, said Oregon State Police Detective Steve Duvall.

"They're not literally hanging," Duvall said. "They actually sit down."

With enough force, he said, a makeshift bedsheet noose crushes the arteries in the neck, leading to unconsciousness and death.

State police investigate all prison related suicides and homicides. Duvall said there is no indication of foul play in Beers' death,

State prison officials plan to conduct a detailed review, which is standard procedure after suicides, said Perrin Damon, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

"It will go beyond procedure," Damon said. "We'll look at whether there were any clues that he was suicidal. Is there anything we can change, fix or improve to prevent this from happening again?"

Beer's was sent to the prison's 90-cell segregation unit Feb. 9, after head-butting another inmate, who insulted him at the prison intake center, authorities said.

He was supposed to be confined to the unit, which inmates call "the hole," for 14 days. But during a cell check Saturday night, an officer found Beers hanging from a bedsheet tied to his cell door's highest crossbar.

The last two inmates to commit suicide before Beers also were in segregation and used the same method to kill themselves. Identity thief Robin Snow, 26, and murderer John Craven, 33, hanged themselves in August and October, respectively.

Damon said no one has discussed replacing the cell doors. She said segregation prisoners who display suicidal tendencies are typically placed in special cells with Lexan protective covering on the doors.

In reality, state officials said, removing crossbars from doors probably wouldn't do much to end prison suicides, which typically don't occur more than two or three times a year.

Some inmates have tried killing themselves by repeatedly jumping off their beds head first. Several years ago, a prisoner hung himself by tying a shoestring to a bolt in his cell's wall.

"If a prisoner wants to kill himself, he's usually going to find a way to do it," said state police Sgt. Jim Ragon, whose Salem-based division conducts the prison investigations. "That's the problem here."


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