After inmate suicide, conditions in question

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BOSTON (AP) – The weekend suicide of a New Hampshire man serving a life sentence for murder in a maximum security prison could have been prevented, the head of an inmate advocacy group says.

Michael Keohane, of Exeter, N.H., was found hanging from a bed sheet in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley at about 11:25 p.m. on Sunday, state prisons spokeswoman Diane Wiffin said.

Keohane, 27, left notes indicating that he was distraught about a personal relationship with someone outside the prison, she said. The incident is under investigation.

Prison officials and the Worcester district attorney’s office are investigating, she said.

Keohane’s suicide was the fifth in the state prisons system in the past 13 months, and the second at Souza-Baranowski, according to Leslie Walker, executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, an inmate advocacy group.

“This is a high-tech, super-max prison with lights and cameras and electronic surveillance equipment,” she said. “This is one building, one unit. Nothing happens in that unit without those guards knowing about it.”

Walker said another inmate called her and told her that Keohane had hung from the sheet for more than 30 minutes as guards and medical personnel stood outside his door.

Wiffin denied that account. Medical staff started administering CPR after arriving at the cell at 11:27 p.m., EMTs responded to the prison at 11:45 and transported Keohane to the hospital at 12:15 a.m., she said.

Three of the four suicides in state prisons last year, as well as the only suicide in 2004, involved inmates who had been diagnosed as mentally ill, Walker said. Keohane had no history of mental illness, Wiffin said.

Walker has been advocating for better mental health treatment behind bars, including the creation of specialized units for mentally ill patients.

Walker testified before a legislative committee last month that mentally ill patients deteriorate more rapidly when they were placed in highly segregated units.

Keohane was being held in a segregated special unit for prisoners with discipline problems, Wiffin said.

Keohane was convicted in 2000 of first-degree murder in the baseball beat beating death of Michael Monahan, 22, in a Salisbury motel room after an argument about money.

Improving mental health care in state prisons was one of the recommendations made by an advisory panel established by Gov. Mitt Romney following the August 2003 death of former priest John Geoghan, a convicted pedophile. Geoghan was beaten and strangled while behind bars. Another inmate was convicted of killing him.



Information from: The Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/globe



Information from: The Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/globe

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