Albeit unfortunate and tragic, it was really no surprise that Cachin Anderson killed himself in prison. There were ample warnings signs but had officials heeded those indications, Anderson, 33, might not have taken his own life on June 28, 2017.
The New York Commission of Corrections recently released a review of the circumstances leading to Anderson’s death, concluding it was preventable had sufficient safety measures been put in place.
There is no question Anderson’s behavior revealed evidence of his underlying mental illness. Serving a ten-year sentence for assaulting a parking lot attendant, Anderson’s increasingly erratic actions in the final two months of life shows a man in the throes of a mental breakdown.
Among other acts, Anderson urinated on guards, threw a can at one corrections officer, and struck another in the face –knocking the man unconscious. At one point, saying he “wanted to end it and go home,” Anderson threw himself headfirst off a sink, striking his head on the hard floor. He threatened suicide on other occasions.
Instead of receiving a mental health evaluation and treatment, Anderson was sent to solitary confinement. That is probably the worst thing prison officials could have done.
Solitary Confinement and Suicide
According to a report by the Department of Corrections and Community Service, of the 130 inmates who killed themselves in the New York State prison system from 2004 to 2013, 30 of them were in solitary confinement. That is five times the number of inmates committing suicide in the general population. A higher number of suicides among those held in solitary is a pattern holding true nationwide.
Mental health experts say solitary confinement is a terrible location for those either experiencing a mental health crisis or attempting to harm themselves. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced plans to cap stays in solitary confinement at 30 days.
Overall, New York has one of the better systems, at least on paper, for dealing with inmates with suspect mental health problems. Unfortunately, the system often does not work the way it was designed, and regulations are ignored. The New York-based Justice Center found that eight of the 25 prisons it investigated in 2018 did not meet the standards regarding current solitary confinement regulations. Suicide and mental health assessments are supposed to take place within specific time frames, and in many cases, that was not happening.
It is also what likely led to Anderson’s ability to kill himself while in solitary.
1:1 Constant Watch
The Commission of Corrections concluded that Anderson should have been put under one-to-one constant watch. This involves a guard checking on the inmate at least every half-hour. Anderson apparently did not receive a suicide prevention screening prior to entering solitary, which is part of prison protocol. Had that occurred, if he were found in “imminent” risk of suicide by mental health professionals, placement in the Residential Crisis Treatment Program (“RCTP”) would have been the next step.
In the RCTP, a separate prison unit, corrections officers monitor inmates every 15 minutes, and video monitoring goes on 24/7. Mental health clinicians conduct private sessions with each inmate daily. These clinicians may recommend that certain inmates are moved to the Central New York Psychiatric Center in Marcy and receive in-patient treatment.
Anderson’s uncle is a former Connecticut corrections officer. He says his nephew should have been in the right unit for observation – period.
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