An inmate at MCI-Norfolk was found hanged in his cell Wednesday, raising concerns about the mental well-being of prisoners in Massachusetts.
Ramon DeJesus, 58, was serving a second-degree murder sentence at the medium-security facility for a 1992 homicide in Holyoke, said Diane Wiffin, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Correction. No further information about his case was available Wednesday night.
While DeJesus’s death is under investigation, this is possibly the sixth time that an inmate has taken his own life at a Department of Correction facility this year, putting the state’s prison system on a perilous pace. The death of an inmate in May is also being investigated.
Leslie Walker, executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, voiced her concern Wednesday night over inmate welfare.
"I am fearful for our other clients, suffering from depression and major mental illness who are not kept safe by the people charged with keeping them safe," she said.
Walker said DeJesus was one of her organization’s clients.
DeJesus came to her group about five years ago after he developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, she said. Walker’s group lobbied successfully for adequate cancer treatment for DeJesus, and he had been in remission recently.
“He was an incredibly polite, patient, unassuming man who was forever repentant about his crime,” Walker said. “He felt terrible about what had happened. He was someone who lived with his sadness over what he had done.”
Five inmates took their own lives last year. There have been four confirmed suicides this year. The death of a fifth inmate, Leo Savard, 51, who died May 18, is being investigated by the Middlesex district attorney's office and DeJesus' death will now be investigated by the Norfolk County district attorney.
But even with the number at four, Massachusetts still holds an inmate suicide rate around three times the national average. Nationally, there are about 17 suicides per 100,000 inmates. Since 2005, Massachusetts has averaged 47 suicides per 100,000 inmates, not counting either Savard or DeJesus, whose deaths have not been officially ruled suicides yet.
John M. Guilfoil can be reached at email@example.com
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