CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – A woman whose son hanged himself in a prison shower five years ago says officials finally have improved they way they handle suicidal inmates.

Constance Cuddemi’s son, Joseph Smith, had been back in prison on a parole violation for less than an hour when he used his shoelaces to hang himself from exposed ceiling pipes.

Though Smith, 34, had been questioned about his past suicide attempts when he spent time in prison in 2001, when he was sent back in 2003, no one interviewed him about his suicidal thoughts and he was put in the shower without any supervision.

After her son’s death, Cuddemi sued the prison with a particular demand in mind: She wanted the prison to do a better job of assessing inmates for suicidal tendencies as soon as they arrived.

The lawsuit was settled in 2006, with the prison admitting no wrongdoing. Cuddemi got $85,000 and the changes she wanted. Every new inmate is asked if he is thinking of killing himself, whether he has thought about in the past two days or has attempted to kill or harm himself in the past. The prison also went beyond those requests and made physical changes to the shower.

Jeff Lyons, prison spokesman, said officials concealed the exposed pipes and took out a metal privacy wall, retiled the floor and walls and added a security camera. The prison also created a team that inspects the prison’s facilities and housing units for safety risks.

Cuddemi said she was impressed and reassured by the changes.

“I just don’t want any mother or wife to have to go through what I went through,” she said.

She toured the new shower area this month at the invitation of Warden Richard Gerry, whom she credits with going beyond what she asked for in her settlement.

“I know (Joe’s) life wasn’t taken for nothing,” she said. “I know he’d be so happy that I’m trying to make changes.”

Information from: Concord Monitor, http://www.cmonitor.com

AP-ES-03-23-08 0946EDT


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