What’s Really Driving This Rise in Suicides?
I witnessed CO’s, even a psychologist, taunt residents in treatment program into committing suicide
An independent investigation into MDOC suicides is overdue
Janika Edmond hung herself at Huron Valley Women’s Facility after guards bet each other lunch on whether she would do it
Jeremy Garza killed himself at Marquette Prison in 2014 half-hour after guards told him, “Go ahead.”
VOD Field Editor Ricardo Ferrell, a Prisoner Observation Aide (POA) who spends hours with prisoners on suicide watch, shows extreme courage in reporting their abuse by correctional officers and a psychologist who urged them to commit suicide. This is a system-wide problem as shown by the stories of Janika Edmond, Jeremy Garza below. Michigan’s ACLU won a lawsuit for POA Sharee Miller in 2019 in which the MDOC agreed to allow POA’s to report mistreatment to an outside governmental agency or protection and advocacy organizations. VOD will be monitoring this situation on Ricardo Ferrell’s behalf.
Ricardo Ferrell, VOD Field Editor
March 27, 2021
In 2008, the department repurposed the Huron Valley Men’s Facility in Pittsfield Twp., and converted it into a women’s facility. Some of the housing units at HVMF that held many of the most severe mentally ill prisoners who often engaged in self-mutilation and suicidal tendencies, were transferred to the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Madison Twp., and housed in the only two Level IV units.
In the last two years, there have been five or six patients housed in the Resident Treatment Program (RTP units) who committed suicide.
The Mental Health Services Department at Gus Harrison has several highly paid under-qualified personnel overseeing the RTP units and those housed there. It is this writer’s firm belief that some of the driving factors in the uptick in suicides at this particular facility come from the continuous mistreatment by custody staff who have on many occasions suggested, urged, and dared prisoners who suffer from acute mental illness to kill themselves.
Some may wonder and ask how do I know this to be true? Well, prior to 2012, the MDOC utilized corrections officers to observe prisoners who demonstrated harmful behavior by self-inflicted injuries, and suicide attempts. However, due to the enormous cost associated with having officers observe this particular group of prisoners (costing millions of dollars), and the reluctance of these prisoners to share with staff the reasons behind their behavior, former MDOC director Daniel Heyns decided to adopt a program from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. There, carefully selected prisoners received specialized and extensive training to participate in the Prisoner Observation Aide (POA) Program, which enabled the trained prisoners to observe those engaging in self-injurious and suicidal behavior and further handle it.
Among the benefits from the MDOC’s adoption of this unique program is the cost effectiveness. Prisoners are paid $3.34 for working between 3-6 hours in a 24-hour period, compared to the cost of paying a corrections officer his/her normal $20 – $25 per hour, plus overtime, etc. This had been costing millions of dollars out of the $2.2 billion annual MDOC budget. The other benefit is the prisoner-to-prisoner connection, where those having a mental breakdown and demonstrating harmful behaviors become more willing to share their issues with fellow prisoners, far more quickly than they would with corrections officers, and/or qualified mental health professionals.
On May 6th, 11 prisoners including myself received the required training to work as POA’s here at the Gus Harrison facility. After receiving certification from one of the psychologists and the classification department, I then was assigned to work in both RTP units and the segregation unit. Between May 12, 2020 – November 15, 2020, I consistently worked sometimes far beyond the normal 3-hour shifts. There were times when we were short POA’s (ONLY 5 of us) and I would work 3 or 4 times in a 24-hour period, oftentimes 4 to 5 hours on each shift. By my best estimate, I probably was called to work approximately 200 times in the six month time frame. My main point is that I was present on many occasions when corrections officers egged prisoners on to harm themselves or commit suicide. In another instance, I witnessed a psychologist tell the prisoner, “I don’t believe you will kill yourself, so go ahead do it.”
This writer is willing to submit to a polygraph examination about the occurrences. This is providing that the corrections officers and the psychologist I observed performing this unprofessional and unlawful behavior are equally willing to do so as well.
This is in the interest of fundamental fairness and justice for the many mentally ill prisoners directly impacted by the despicable behavior of employees within the Michigan Department of Corrections, who indulge in the taunting the most vulnerable prisoners by encouraging, enticing, promoting and daring them to take their own lives. It is suggested that a full scale independent investigation be conducted by an entity outside of the MDOC’s scope of authority based on the fact there have been suicides committed on the grounds of a state correctional facility.
While prisoners have limited rights as convicted felons, they do enjoy the right to be treated humanely with dignity and respect, and the right to be free of mistreatment, humiliation, discrimination, and degradation. Among the constitutionally protected rights of any U.S. citizen, including prisoners. is the right to exercise their religious freedom, properly address their grievances/complaints, and to have unfettered access to the Courts & the Press.
In summation, it should be noted the following: An incarcerated individual should be free from reprisal, repercussion, and/or retaliation for exercising their right to file a complaint/lawsuit.
Recent Voice of Detroit articles by Ricardo Ferrell, among over 40 VOD has published: