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Suicide prompts review of jails

The Baltimore Sun

Jail officials in Anne Arundel County said yesterday that they are reviewing how facilities screen inmates' mental health after a Towson man apparently killed himself in his cell over the weekend, the county's fourth inmate death this year.

Tyrell Dominique Taylor, 31, was found Saturday morning hanging from bedsheets affixed to a bunk bed. Taylor had been arrested two days earlier on robbery charges and was being held at the Jennifer Road detention center on $1 million bail.

Before this year, the county jail system had not recorded an inmate suicide since 2003, said Robin Harting, superintendent of Anne Arundel's two detention facilities. But Taylor is the second inmate in seven months to kill himself and the fourth to die while in custody this year.

Harting said she believed the department's policies for screening inmates are sound, but that it is routine to conduct a review after an inmate's death.

"Given the fact that this is the second suicide within seven months or so, I intend to research options for seeing if there's a better screening instrument or better training possibilities," Harting said. "I'm confident that [the county's policies are] not behind the curve. However, to the extent there's a way to screen for suicidal ideation more effectively, I want to find it and implement it."

Across the country, suicides occur three times more often in local jails than in prisons, though they have been on a sharp decline overall since the 1980s, according to federal statistics.

Suicide was the leading cause of death among jail inmates in 1983; 10 years later that rate had been cut by more than half, and illnesses and natural causes had become the most common cause of jail deaths.

Baltimore County Department of Corrections Director James P. O'Neill said there have been two natural-causes deaths in Baltimore County jails this year. The county went several years without an inmate suicide, then saw four in a span of about 15 months in 2004, but hasn't had one since.

He added, however, that inmates, particularly older ones, seem to be entering jails with increasingly serious health issues.

"I think more of the issue is the kind of shape that these people are in, in their 40s and 50s after years and years of substance abuse and other things. It's a sicker inmate community," O'Neill said.

Three of the Anne Arundel deaths occurred at the Jennifer Road center in Annapolis during a span of about four weeks in January and February.

Monteray Arkell Hastey, 37, of Annapolis was found Jan. 4 hanging from bedsheets two days after being arrested for a probation violation. He was the brother of rapper Delray Richardson.

On Jan. 15, Odenton resident Michael B. McCormick, 49, died while awaiting a court hearing on traffic charges. An autopsy found that he had died of alcohol ketosis and blunt force trauma, apparently from falling from his bunk onto a concrete floor.

And on Feb. 1, James Leroy Downs, 45, of Pasadena died of heart disease. He had been arrested six weeks earlier on charges of marijuana possession.

Taylor had been admitted to the jail on Thursday night on charges of robbery and theft under $500 and was being kept in an intake area that features about 40 cells with bunk beds. About 9 a.m. Saturday, his cellmate was removed to visit a nurse, and a corrections officer "had a brief exchange with Mr. Taylor that gave no indication of any distress, no request for treatment of any kind," Harting said.

Ten minutes later, when the cellmate returned, Taylor was found unresponsive and taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

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