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Inmate may have propped up bed to hang himself

The Montgomery County inmate who officials believe hanged himself Sunday was not on a suicide watch, and he propped a bunk bed on its end to gain more height from which he tied a bedsheet, the county’s corrections chief said Tuesday, citing initial findings in the investigation.

Should the inmate's death on Sunday prove to be suicide, it would be the first such case in Montgomery County in 10½ years, Arthur Wallenstein, director of the county’s Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, said in an interview.

Last Wednesday, when the prisoner, Thomas L. Miller, 32, arrived at the Montgomery County Detention Center in Rockville, he was asked a series of questions as part of a “behavioral health assessment,” Wallenstein said. Miller told officials he was a drug user going through withdrawal, and was put on a medical protocol related to the drug use, according to Wallenstein.

“Of course we’re reviewing the matter,” said Wallenstein, who said he has not identified any incorrect actions taken. “We’ll stand our record against any large jail in this country” in terms of inmates’ mental health issues, he said.

Corrections staff checked Miller every 30 minutes, as they routinely do for all inmates, Wallenstein said. Miller was alone in his cell in part because the facility had a low population ebb over the weekend.

Miller was being held on charges related to drug possession, planned drug distribution and probation violation, according to Wallenstein.

Miller was found hanging from the bed with a sheet around his neck at 2:30 a.m. Sunday, according to Montgomery County police, who are investigating the incident. Correctional officers immediately removed the sheet and tried to save his life, police said. Miller was pronounced dead about 70 minutes later at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. Police have said they do not suspect foul play.

A police spokeswoman on Tuesday said there was no immediate word if an initial autopsy had been completed by the state's medical examiner.

In other parts of the country, inmates have committed suicide by hanging themselves from beds as few as three feet off the ground, Wallenstein said.

-- Dan Morse

By Dan Morse  |  December 15, 2009; 12:54 PM ET
Categories:  Dan Morse , Montgomery , Prison Beat , Updates  
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Why do local detention centers continue to give inmates linen bedsheets? Isn't there some type of non-material bedding?

Posted by: mstov | December 15, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

The article by Dan Morse was excellent, factual and directly on point. Dan Morse covers many Montgomery County Government issues and his coverage over time of anything involving Corrections has been excellent - he does his homework and has visited line operations. Mstov above offers a solid question that warrants a thoughtful response. If "suicide or self destructive proof" materials the issue that would be easy. They exist and of course prisoners could be given nothing or a tear proof gown and placed in a cell with no sleeping items at all. To do this with 16,000 prisoners who enter yearly would be unconstitutional and not juustified for all arrivals.

Montgomery County has followed state of the art practices and skill assessment and superior Correctional Officer supervision processes and that is why this was the first act of this nature in over 10 years and 150,000 prisoner arrivals. The key to auicide prevention in a best practices correctional setting is quality intake assessment to isolate at risk cases followed by quality supervision protocols and intense monitoring even at times assigned one staff member to watch one inmate at enormous cost $375 per shift. Life safety is both the focus and our goal and we do that very well. If there is a will there is a will there is a way and in this case the prisoner involved was not deemed a risk for self destructive behavior. It is easy after the fact to suggest a linkage but it is far more complex to select those as part of 16,000 yearly admissions. Professional mental health/behavioral health staff in Montgomery County have proven their ability and skill to make these judgments successfully over many years in concert with superior Correctional Officers who receive serious advanced training in mental illness issues as part of the law enforcement CIT training.

This event happened even in the presence of as good a process and the best staff one could find in the corrections profession. There is no large jail with a better record. We feel very badly and we will learn from this event. I thank the Post and Mostov for very good and useful comments. I am very pleased to respond to my Metro area colleagues and I am the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation.

Posted by: artwallenstein | December 16, 2009 5:55 AM | Report abuse

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