Recent deaths at ACI prompt call for independent investigation (2024)

Brandon Robinson, second from left, is campaign organizer for Stop Torture R.I. Coalition, and seen here at a March 14, 2024, gathering of prison reform advocates on the steps of the Rhode Island State House. Robinson is one of the signatories on a letter sent by the ACLU and eight other organizations to the state’s Department of Corrections. (Alexander Castro/Rhode Island Current)

A coalition of nine community organizations on Monday called for an independent investigation after reports of the deaths of four inmates at the Adult Correctional Institutions over the last three months.

In a letter to Wayne Salisbury Jr., acting director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (DOC) since January 2023, the community groups expressed the need for greater scrutiny of medical treatment provided to inmates while acknowledging the challenges that come with treating pre-existing conditions.

The letter was released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island (ACLU), one of the nine organizations signing it.

On the evening of April 12, a man collapsed while playing basketball at the gym of the Maximum Security Facility and was rushed to Rhode Island Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. J.R. Ventura, a DOC spokesperson, told Rhode Island Current that correctional officers and nursing staff immediately began administering life-saving measures and continued doing so until the arrival of Cranston Fire.

Two days later, in the early morning hours of April 14, a woman incarcerated at the Women’s Facility who had been committed just hours prior ,was found unresponsive by correctional staff. She was rushed to Kent Hospital in Warwick and died there. Ventura said immediate medical assistance was given in this case also.

Ventura did not release identifying information about either of the deceased. He said the deaths were still being investigated. But family members have spoken to news media outlets since the deaths — like the relatives of William Page, the man who died playing basketball, who spoke to WJAR 10.

Leigh Jones — mother of Willie Washington Jr., who died at age 25 in February while under DOC custody — also spoke to the news station, and suggested her son’s medical complaints had been ignored in the time leading up to his death.

“This letter does not seek to cast blame,” the signatories wrote. “We fully acknowledge, as the DOC’s spokesperson has noted, that your Department has no influence over the individuals brought to you for custody, and some may arrive with morbidities and health issues that are beyond your control.”

The ACI or DOC have not released full details on all four deaths.

What’s concerning, the letter suggests, is the number of deaths as well as the timespan in which they took place. The advocates noted in their letter that the DOC had apparently provided prompt medical attention in April’s two deaths. But they questioned if that level of care had been consistent throughout their incarceration, and “whether health issues that they had complained about during their incarceration, or that were otherwise known to the DOC, were taken seriously enough beforehand,” the letter stated.

In addition to the most recent deaths, the prison rights advocacy groups also want the investigation to include last year’s string of suicides.

The letter asked for greater transparency from the state’s corrections department regarding the deaths of imprisoned people. That would mean notifying family members of the deceased regarding any investigations, as well as the prompt public release of the name and age of anyone who dies in DOC custody. The letter also stressed the performance of autopsies by the state’s health department, as well as the preservation of any sound or video recordings that could be relevant to deaths that happened under state custody.

“The secrecy surrounding these deaths only breeds mistrust,” the letter reads. “While the [Corrections] Department’s public information officer was recently quoted as saying that the media unfairly paints correctional agencies ‘as uncaring, callous individuals,’ the most direct way to counteract those impressions is by providing timely, accurate information about serious incidents like these.”

Joining the ACLU as signatories are the Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance, the Amos House, Black Lives Matter RI PAC, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, The Just Criminal Justice Group, L.L.C., OpenDoors, Stop Torture RI Coalition and Providence branch of the NAACP.


The post Recent deaths at ACI prompt call for independent investigation appeared first on Rhode Island Current.

Recent deaths at ACI prompt call for independent investigation (2024)


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