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The D.C. Inspector General’s Office may investigate the D.C. Corrections Department over the suicides of two D.C. jail inmates with mental illnesses, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) told Legal Times last week. “The bottom line with these circumstances is that people should not be dying in the jail. We have to have a system in place that is doing more than it is doing to both prevent [suicides] and avoid them,” says Mendelson, who chairs the Council committee overseeing the Corrections Department. Corrections Director Devon Brown has repeatedly refused to be interviewed about the suicides or ongoing internal investigations of the deaths. “It’s an important point when there is a serious issue. Perhaps the jail should be turning to an independent investigation rather than investigating itself,” says Mendelson, adding that the Inspector General’s Office has requested records on the internal probes to determine whether further investigation is needed. Mayor Adrian Fenty and City Administrator Dan Tangherlini will meet with Brown later this month about the suicides, says Fenty spokeswoman Carrie Brooks. The Corrections Department released false information about the March 31 suicide of Alicia Edwards, initially claiming that she was being held in the jail’s mental-health unit under 24-hour observation by clinical staff. After The Washington Post and The Examiner published the misinformation, department spokeswoman Beverly Young admitted to Legal Times that Edwards actually was alone in an intake cell when she hanged herself; a required mental-health assessment still hadn’t been completed by jail contractor Unity Health Care. Edwards, 32, suffered from bipolar disorder. On Dec. 23, 28-year-old Thomas Alemayehu also hanged himself while alone in a cell, just two days after a mental-competency screening by the D.C. Mental Health Department found he showed no signs of suicide risk or mental illness. His friends and family say he had serious mental problems that should have been recognized. Like Edwards, he was not under increased observation or suicide watch.
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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