Inmate being held in segregation found dead in Maryland women's prison

A 29-year-old inmate being held in segregation at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup was found dead over the weekend after apparently committing suicide, officials confirmed.

Emily Butler, who was serving a 14-year sentence out of Somerset County, was found unresponsive in her cell about 11 a.m. Sunday, said Gerard Shields, a spokesman for the prison system.

An officer making rounds noticed the window of her cell was covered, which is not permitted. He called for Butler and heard no answer, and when officers entered, they found her unresponsive, Shields said. Butler was pronounced dead at the scene.

An autopsy has been completed, but Shields said the agency would not be disclosing its findings because an investigation was continuing.

The prison system is required to report annual figures on segregation of inmates. Data for fiscal year 2016 show there were four suicides across the prison system, two of which involved inmates on restrictive housing and two who were on disciplinary segregation.

Julie Magers, coalition leader with the Maryland Prisoners’ Rights Coalition, said Maryland uses solitary confinement at about twice the national average. She said mentally ill inmates “fare worse.” The suicides are “clear indications and evidence that systemic reform is drastically needed for both mental health care and the use of solitary confinement within our correctional facilities,” she said.

“It is widely proven that the current practices of solitary confinement are extremely harmful and oftentimes counterproductive, especially for those with mental health issues, and it has also been shown that mental health care within the system is lacking and drastically in need of improvement,” she said. “If this particular incident proves that it was a result of these practices, then it is just one more example of the dire need for reform.”

Shields said Butler was serving time for a theft scheme case. Court records show her sentence in that case was suspended, and she was serving time for a second-degree arson case in which she had been on probation.

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