An opinion piece in the Fayetteville Observer poses some interesting questions about the death of a prison inmate, questions that investigators have yet to answer. The piece also offers some insight into the victim’s mental illness. We have been writing about the case in our last couple of posts; in that time, no one from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety has offered any more information about it. The last bit of news came earlier this month when five workers were fired and two resigned.
The column points out that the department made it clear the staff changes were not the end of the investigation. Why, then, would the state let them go instead of putting them on leave pending the completion of the investigation, the paper asks. Clearly, someone has drawn some conclusions; will more heads roll when the State Bureau of Investigation has completed its inquiry?
About the victim, the column tells us that his mental health deteriorated after two of his sons were killed in separate incidents. Six weeks in solitary confinement may have made his condition worse. While the prison has not explained the reason for the solitary confinement — all we really know is that he was convicted as a habitual felon and that he was alive when he left the prison — the victim’s sister told an interviewer that she had been worried about her brother before his death.
He was depressed, she said, and she felt that his depression was getting worse. She wondered if he was getting the kind of psychological care he needed, so she called the prison. She never spoke with anyone.
Disability Rights North Carolina has an interesting role here. The organization does not enforce the law. Rather, the organization reviews the file to see if there is a way to avoid the situation in the future. There may be better ways to protect people with disabilities, for example, that could be adopted in the prison system as a whole or just in Alexander, where the victim was serving his sentence. Disability Rights wants to know if the issue is confined to just that location.
First, though, someone at the state will have to say just what the issue was, and that could take some time.
News & Observer, “Seven NC prison workers lose jobs over inmate’s death,” Craig Jarvis, April 9, 2014
Fayetteville Observer, “Death questions left unresolved by dismissals,” April 17, 2014