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The D.C. Department of Corrections issued a new inmate suicide prevention plan months after jail officials released false information about lapses in mental health care that may have contributed to the suicide of 32-year-old inmate Alicia Edwards. The D.C. Inspector General’s Office is investigating the department about the suicides of Edwards in March and 28-year-old Thomas Alemayehu last December. Both of the mentally ill inmates hanged themselves while being held alone in intake cells on minor charges. Neither inmate had been placed on suicide watch or in the mental health unit. The Corrections Department initially claimed Edwards was detained in the mental health unit under 24-hour observation before her suicide. Under the new policy, any inmate who shows signs of mental illness in an initial screening must be kept in the infirmary until a mental health assessment is completed, within four hours. Edwards was flagged for mental health problems in her screening, but she hanged herself two days later, before receiving an assessment by jail health care contractor Unity Health Care. Also, inmates can no longer be detained alone in intake cells during the first 24 hours of incarceration, and guards will receive more training to identify suicidal tendencies and will learn new suicide watch procedures. D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-large) called for the inspector general probe in April, saying an independent investigation was needed rather than having the Corrections Department “investigating itself.” Mendelson said last week the department has refused to release its report on Alemayehu’s suicide to him, even though he chairs the Council committee that oversees the department. The Corrections Department also denied a Freedom of Information Act request from Legal Times for a copy of the report. Another internal investigation of Edwards’ suicide has not yet been completed. Corrections Department Director Devon Brown has repeatedly refused to be interviewed about the suicides or about the misinformation provided by jail officials about Edwards’ death.
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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