Jail suicides were the first in more than 12 years

By Peter H. Milliken



Two inmates have committed suicide by hanging themselves in their Mahoning County jail cells within the past six weeks, despite the mental health screenings and services the jail provides to its inmates.

They were the first suicides there in more than 12 years.

The Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an administrative review – but not an internal affairs investigation – into Sunday morning’s suicide by a county jail inmate because it’s clear that the deputy in this case performed his job properly, Sheriff Jerry Greene said Monday.

The inmate, Colin Anzevino, 21, of Struthers, who had pleaded guilty Sept. 14 to an aggravated-burglary charge with a firearm specification, was found unresponsive in his cell at 12:27 a.m. Sunday.

Anzevino last had been seen alive at 11:56 p.m. Saturday, said Maj. Alki Santamas of the sheriff’s office.

The prosecution recommended eight years in prison for Anzevino upon his sentencing, which had been scheduled for Oct. 30 before Judge Shirley J. Christian of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Anzevino was one of three people charged with breaking into an Oakland Boulevard home in Struthers on April 9 and taking 17 guns and prescription medication. The homeowner suffered head injuries and a stab wound to his arm.

In May 2013, Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court sent Anzevino to prison for two years, also for burglary.

‘100 percent confident’

“We are 100 percent confident that our deputy did what he was supposed to do,” which is to make two rounds an hour at intermittent intervals to check on inmates under his supervision, the sheriff said.

“There were no indicating factors to tell anybody that this event [Ansevino’s suicide] was going to take place,” the sheriff said.

Anzevino, who had been jailed since April 10, neither told jail staff he was suicidal, nor did he say he needed to speak to a mental health professional, Greene said.

Often, inmates who commit suicide do not articulate their intentions to jail staff or mental health professionals, the sheriff said.

“Those are the ones you worry about,” he added.

“The person that says, ‘I want to commit suicide,’ instantly goes on suicide watch,” Greene added.

This past weekend’s suicide follows that of Kevin P. Burkey, 50, of Lowellville, who died by hanging in his Mahoning County jail cell on Aug. 25, two days after being booked into the jail.

Burkey had been jailed on a charge of theft of dangerous drugs from St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital.

Two sheriff’s deputies were suspended for improperly leaving their posts for breaks when Burkey committed suicide.

Neither Anzevino nor Burkey was on suicide watch.

‘no explanation”

As for the two suicides happening within six weeks of each other, the sheriff said: “I have no explanation for that. It’s just a bad coincidence.”

The Mahoning County jail’s last previous suicides were on Jan. 8 and May 24, 2003, the sheriff said.

“This is an unfortunate reality that takes place in our business, and we always conduct reviews of what we need to do to improve,” the sheriff said.

Although the jail does not have licensed counselors or social workers on its own staff, mental health screenings and services are continuously provided in the jail, which houses an average of 520 inmates, the sheriff said.

Jail booking and medical personnel ask each incoming inmate: “Do you feel like hurting yourself or anyone else?” Greene said.

In the jail, 24 hours of individual and group mental health counseling and an additional 24 hours of substance-abuse counseling are provided weekly by agencies of the county mental health and recovery board, Santamas said.

In addition, four hours a week of psychiatric services are provided in the jail, he added.

The mental health and recovery board also provides funds for purchase of new and costly psychiatric medicines jail inmates wouldn’t otherwise get, said Toni Notaro, a licensed counselor and the board’s compliance and evaluation director.

most vulnerable times

The most vulnerable times for inmate suicides are when the inmate first comes to jail, just after the inmate pleads guilty or is sentenced, or just after an argument over the telephone between an inmate and a family member or loved one, the sheriff said.

Greene observed that the jail had very few suicides when it was crowded and inmates were double-bunked.

“When they’re double-bunked with somebody, they never succeed” in killing themselves because somebody’s always watching them, Greene said of the inmates.

However, state and federal regulators prohibit double-bunking of violent offenders, the sheriff noted.

Notaro praised the advice concerning counseling, which U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson gives defendants when they plead guilty in her Youngstown court to crimes, for which significant prison time is likely to be imposed.

Judge Pearson advises them to seek referral to counseling through the court staff, if they need it, pending sentencing.

She also tells them that life is worth living and that they have much to offer, both to fellow prison inmates and to society after their release.

“If the judges can give that recommendation [for counseling], it certainly holds a lot of weight with people,” Notaro said.

jails as mental institutions

“Jails and prisons are the largest mental health institutions in the United States,” Notaro said.

“Often, there’s nowhere to place these individuals that suffer from mental illness, and it becomes frustrating that this [the jail] becomes the only option for them,” the sheriff said, referring to the shortage of psychiatric hospital beds.

With Woodside Receiving Hospital and the psychiatric ward at Valley Care Northside Medical Center closed, St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital has Mahoning County’s only hospital psychiatric ward, said Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the county mental health and recovery board.

The sheriff noted that his jail and its medical services have met the standards of numerous inspecting agencies.

The jail medical staff received a grade of 100 percent in a 2013 inspection that resulted in a three-year accreditation from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. This evaluation covered medical, dental, mental health and substance-abuse recovery services, Greene said.

In July 2015 inspections, the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention found the jail to be in full compliance with bureau standards; and the U.S. Marshals Service approved the jail to house its federal inmates.

All quarterly Mahoning County grand jury jail inspection reports have been favorable since he took office in January 2013, the sheriff said.

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