D.C. jail announces changes to reduce inmate suicides

In the wake of two recent deaths behind bars, the head of the D.C. Department of Corrections Monday announced new changes to reduce the risk of suicides among inmates.

Jail officials will increase the frequency of security checks from every 30 minutes to every 15 minutes. They have also asked for help from the Federal Bureau of Prison’s psychological services unit to review how its employees assess inmates’ mental health.

The policy changes come two days after Walter Calloway, 42, of Southeast Washington was found hanging in his cell. Calloway had been charged with child sexual abuse. He is the third inmate since the fall to have killed himself in the jail, according to jail and police officials.

On June 18, a Labor Department attorney, Paul Mannina, 58, who was charged with sexually assaulting his co-worker, was found with his throat cut in his cell. Several police officials familiar with the case said Mannina killed himself with a razor or other sharp object.

In November, Michael English, 30, who had a history of mental illness and was charged with stabbing a friend, was found hanging in his cell.

In a statement Monday, jail director Tom Faust said his office is reviewing its policies “to ensure all available resources are devoted to preventing future occurrences.”

Additional steps include plans to team with the Justice Department’s National Institute of Corrections to review its policies regarding inmate mental health and suicide prevention. A task force that will include officials with the D.C. Department of MentalHealth will also review those policies.

The jail, which currently houses about 1,800 inmates, will also review its employee security and training operations. And it will review communications between jail officials and D.C. police, the courts, mental health services and other agencies that have contact with inmates prior to incarceration.

In recent weeks, friends and family of inmates, local politicians and The Washington Post editorial board have called for jail officials to review its procedures.

D.C. Councilman and Mayoral candidate Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) applauded the changes, which he said came after he met with Faust over the weekend. Wells said he still plans to call for a hearing in the fall to review the deaths.

“We’ll work with them if we need to bring their experts in to testify to tell us what they’re going to do to prevent this from happening and what happened in these cases,” Wells said.

Staff research Magda Jean Louis contributed to this report.

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of slain federal intern Chandra Levy.
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