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Ignored suicide risk in prison could lead to wrongful death claim

All too often, mentally ill inmates in our nation's prisons are left to suffer unnecessarily -- and many are neglected and left unsupervised until they commit suicide in despair.

These types of deaths don't have to happen. When they do, you may have a right to sue for wrongful death, based on the neglect that led to your loved one's suicide.

For example, a civil suit has been filed against the warden and 10 or more guards working at the Atlantic County Jail, New Jersey, after they failed to screen an inmate for psychological problems -- a failure that family members allege directly contributed to her suicide while behind bars.

The deceased inmate had been jailed before, so the jail was familiar with her mental health history, drug addiction and seizure disorder -- but they did not screen her to see what type of treatment she needed to cope. She committed suicide within a week, hanging herself in her cell.

Prison guards aren't expected to be able to prevent every possible suicide or even recognize every possible case of mental illness in a prisoner. They are, however, expected to make a good faith effort to assess a prisoner's mental health. If the prisoner is found to be a suicide risk, he or she should be monitored as closely as possible and every effort should be made to secure mental health services for him or her right away.

Ignoring an inmate's previous mental health history, as well as her physical problems, would seem to fall far short of any sort of "good faith effort" that the guards could have offered.

Too many inmates die as a result of deliberate indifference to their mental health needs. It's possible that the guards are overwhelmed, trying to deal with a heavy influx of prisoners who have drug issues and mental health problems -- but in cases where the history of an inmate is already known or specifically communicated to them by family members, there really isn't much excuse for ignoring the potential risk of suicide.

If your relative died from suicide while in police custody and you believe that he or she was not adequately assessed or supervised, the advice of a personal injury attorney can give you more information about the possibility of a wrongful death claim.

Source: Daily News, "N.J. jail guards failed to monitor inmate before suicide: suit," Jason Silverstein, March 30, 2017

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