Frederick County jail suicide attempts nearly triple
Sheriff Jenkins says deputies are doing due diligence' to prevent incidents; mother disagrees
Another suicide attempt at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center Monday night highlights a growing challenge for the Frederick County Sheriff's Office.
On Monday, a 47-year-old inmate from Brunswick slashed his upper arm while incarcerated, according to Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, spokeswoman for the Frederick County Sheriff's Office. It is the latest incident that highlights an increasing number of inmates who have attempted suicide from 50 in 2007 to 136 in 2010.
The inmate was aiming for a major artery and hit a vein instead, she said, and was found in his cell by a correctional officer, who administered aid. The man, who police refused to identify, was treated at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma in Baltimore before being returned to the jail Monday night.
Before that incident, three other inmates had killed themselves in the Frederick County Adult Detention Center since 2009.
The mother of one of those inmates is still looking for answers, and trying to find lessons in the loss of her son, who killed himself at the jail in July.
One mother's story
Christmas was not on Annette Hanlin-Cooney's calendar this year. The Myersville mom is still reeling from the loss of her only child in July, and found little to celebrate this season.
William J. Hanlin, 21, was buried on his 22nd birthday, July 15, after hanging himself in his cell at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center on July 9.
He was incarcerated on a traffic charge while addicted to prescription drugs and marijuana, Hanlin-Cooney said, and he didn't deserve to die as a result.
Hanlin-Cooney said she warned detention center staff that her son had threatened to kill himself, but he was not placed on suicide watch. Instead, he was put in the medical unit of the jail.
Employees are responsible for checking on inmates in the medical unit every 20 minutes, but Cooney said that did not happen for her son. Police reports indicate that staff checked on Hanlin at 10 a.m. on the day of his death, but did not check him again until lunchtime. Hanlin hanged himself with a sheet, and was found dead at 11:50 a.m., according to a police incident report.
Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins (R) said "severe disciplinary actions were handed down" following the suicide, but he would not reveal any specifics about those actions or who was on the receiving end.
History of suicide at the jail
Hanlin's was the first of two suicides at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center in 2010.
Inmate Valerie A. Miller of Walkersville hanged herself on Oct. 17 and was the third suicide during Jenkins' tenure. In June 2009, Justin M. Lihvarchik of Sabillasville hanged himself with his own shoelaces at the detention center. As a result, inmates may now only wear shoes with no laces.
Before Lihvarchik's death, the Sheriff's Office reported one suicide in 2002, and according to spokeswoman Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, no one working at the jail since 1985 recalls any other suicides there.
"As a matter of note," Bailey said in an e-mail, "none of these individuals gave any indication of suicidal thoughts or behavior and were not on suicide watch protocols."
She said she called the detention center to warn them of her son's intentions, which he had made known when he was taken to the emergency room at Frederick Memorial Hospital the week before. His mother had him transported there when he was having a severe reaction to drugs. He had been free of drugs for a little more than a month, and was an outpatient at the Frederick County Health Department's substance abuse program, Project 103, when he relapsed.
Hospital reports obtained by Hanlin-Cooney state that Hanlin said he would "shoot his face off" and his addiction counselor at Project 103 recommended he be admitted to the hospital for that reason. Hanlin, however, was released within hours of his emergency room visit, according to hospital reports.
What's being done
Jenkins said he believes his staff at the jail is doing "due diligence" when it comes to keeping inmates safe.
"At this point, I am not sure the public has a whole lot of sympathy for these individuals," Jenkins said.
Unfortunately, Jenkins said, about 40 percent of inmates who come through the detention center have addiction and/or mental health issues.
Lt. Col. William DeLauter, corrections bureau chief at the center, agreed, and said through spokeswoman Bailey that "this increase over the past four years can be attributed to a significant degree to the reduction of mental health and substance abuse services at the state level.
"As a consequence," he said, "the jail is seeing more of these individuals at the local level."
The 2011 budget for state mental health and substance abuse programs funded by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene was cut $3 million from 2010.
A May 2010 study from The National Center on Institutions and Alternatives found "a dramatic decrease in the rate of suicide at county jails over the past 20 years," and put the rate now at 38 suicides per 100,000 inmates nationally, down from 107 in 1986. The study attributes the decrease in jail suicides to better awareness of prevention methods "coupled with the threat of liability."
Despite the decrease in the last two decades, however, suicide remains the No. 1 cause of death in jails across the country, the study found. Of those who committed suicide in jail nationally, 47 percent had a history of substance abuse, and 38 percent had a history of mental illness.
"It is hard to respond to [study findings]," Jenkins said. "I would take for granted that's factual info, but the fact is for years and years we have not had one, and after we did, we are taking appropriate steps to make sure that it doesn't happen again."
Jail suicides receive so much press attention, he said, because they are rare. Since 2007, corrections staff have prevented a growing number of suicide attempts. In 2007, they prevented 50 attempts; in 2008, 80 attempts; in 2009, 120 attempts, and in 2010, staff intervened in 136 suicide attempts.
The center does an intake assessment on each inmate to determine if psychological services are necessary. If so, a psychologist meets with inmates twice per week, Jenkins said.
After Miller hanged herself in October, the sheriff said he had staff remove the angle iron that juts out of the top bunk where she and Hanlin had attached the sheets with which they hanged themselves. Corrections officers also receive suicide prevention training.
"Short of stripping the sheets, what more can we do?" Jenkins said.
Hanlin-Cooney wants to know why the bunk changes were not made after her son killed himself, or why the sheriff's office does not use paper sheets like other jails. Her attorney, C. Christopher Brown of Baltimore, filed a notice for a potential claim in October, but Hanlin-Cooney said he backed out this week, saying he could not retrieve documents regarding the internal investigation on Hanlin's suicide from the Sheriff's Office.
"There is absolutely no truth to that," Jenkins said. "We have maintained everything throughout the course of the investigation. If [Brown] has tried to get that information, I am not aware of it."
Hanlin-Cooney disputes the sheriff's assertions, and said neither she nor her attorney could get the information requested.
As for her potential lawsuit, Hanlin-Cooney said that she does not care about getting money, but she would like to open an affordable rehabilitation center for people who cannot pay the $1,500 to $2,500 price tag of inpatient care. She started a weekly addiction support meeting in September. The John Hanlin Support Group for recovering addicts meets at 7 p.m. on Fridays at Trinity United Methodist Church in Frederick.
"I did everything I could to help my son with his addictions, but it wasn't enough," Cooney said. "I still feel that I could have done more. ... If I can help prevent anyone from going through what I am going through 24 hours a day, it will keep me going."