Posted: April 1, 2010 by sillycat07 in IDOC

The Peoria Journal Star is right. Tony Smith took his own life after multiple attempts. IDOC was forewarned that he was suicidal and yet he was able to commit suicide using exactly the same method as before. How screwed up is IDOC for this to be able to happen? Is it staffing shortages, or just indifference to inmate welfare? And, yes, IDOC’s propensity towards stonewalling and secrecy apparently isn’t changing despite Quinn-speak. IDOC just had a security review as a result of the two recent incidents at two prisons involving inmate violence. They investigated those situations fairly extensively. How extensively will they investigate inmate safety?

Posted Mar 21, 2010 @ 11:24 PM

How exactly was a convicted Marshall County killer able to commit suicide March 13, just two days into serving his life sentence in state prison?

More than a week after Tony Smith took his own life, investigators with the state Department of Corrections are still puzzling over that while avoiding most questions into the matter. The answers, though, are important, if not just for the family and friends of victim Judith Berchtold and Smith’s relatives – despicable as his brutal acts were in shooting his estranged girlfriend at point-blank range on a Marshall County highway last April – then for the reputation of the agency itself as part of a state government that has provided ample reason for doubt.

We’d respectfully suggest that under the circumstances it shouldn’t take Columbo to get to the bottom of this case.

According to testimony at his trial just last month, Smith begged the first officer who responded to the scene to “just shoot me,” which the officer did when Smith wouldn’t put down his shotgun. He begged the EMT working to stabilize him to “just let me die.” As though that weren’t indication enough that he required watching, Smith had attempted suicide the day he was to be moved from the Marshall County Jail into state custody by trying to hang himself in his cell using a combination of a sheet and a pillowcase. Jailers keeping a close eye on him quickly thwarted his efforts, had him checked out at the hospital and moved him to prison. When they did so, Marshall County officials say – and the state confirms – the prison was notified that Smith was a danger to himself.

Officials at Stateville Correctional Center put him on what they term “crisis watch” in the hospital wing, where he was evaluated by a psychiatrist and clinical psychologist. They placed him in a single-occupant cell. Yet somewhere along the line he had the time and opportunity to kill himself using essentially the same methods he’d employed two days before.

The DOC’s internal investigations unit is now charged with probing the matter, which gives us pause. A fully independent inquiry would calm concerns about the conflict inherent in an agency investigating itself. Evidence also was collected immediately after Smith’s suicide – per procedure – by the State Police crime scene unit.

Meanwhile, DOC has been nothing if not tight-lipped here, both to media and to Marshall County officials looking for answers themselves. The “no comments” have done little to bolster confidence in the agency.

Indeed, it’s dismaying that DOC has thus far refused to answer even basic questions that shouldn’t in any way prejudice the investigation: How long is the inquiry likely to take? What will be involved – a review of security tapes, statements from prison guards? What are the procedures for newly arrived prisoners? How frequently are they ordinarily checked in their cells? How often for those on suicide watch? How many other suicides have been recorded to date this year at Stateville? How does that compare to the last few years?

DOC would only consider the last two, and then only to say no answers would be forthcoming without a formal Freedom of Information Act request. Unacceptable.

Look, we appreciate that DOC has not been spared the state’s budget reductions, and that those cuts have consequences. Nonetheless, the question remains: Why did Tony Smith die on DOC’s watch, and what assurances can the agency provide that it won’t be repeated with other despondent prisoners? We’ll await the results of this investigation, but for now, this is just one more thing in a state government has given Illinois citizens little reason of late to trust in its competence.

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