In­ex­cus­able

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - OPINIONS - — Robin Beres

Ear­lier this month, news that Ch­ester­field County of­fi­cials have be­gun mov­ing nearly 200 county in­mates from River­side Re­gional Jail over con­cerns of in­ad­e­quate med­i­cal care was a smart move. The other coun­ties and cities that house in­mates at the fa­cil­ity might want to con­sider do­ing some­thing sim­i­lar.

On March 24, an­other in­mate died at the re­gional fa­cil­ity. Michael Dil­lon, 29, had been booked into the jail four days ear­lier and was be­ing held on charges of mis­de­meanor as­sault and van­dal­ism. He ap­par­ently went into med­i­cal dis­tress at 12:06 a.m. while be­ing ex­am­ined by med­i­cal per­son­nel. He died after ef­forts to re­vive him failed.

Dil­lon’s was the third death to oc­cur at the prob­lem-plagued fa­cil­ity in the past eight months, and as noted in Tues­day’s RTD, it hap­pened “less than a month after an­other in­mate, Fred Lavigne, 53, ap­par­ently com­mit­ted sui­cide in his cell.”

Lavigne was found un­re­spon­sive on Feb. 21, and in July, an­other in­mate, William A. Brown, died of nat­u­ral causes dur­ing a med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion.

Al­le­ga­tions and com­plaints about chronic mis­man­age­ment at River­side are noth­ing new. Ch­ester­field County Sher­iff Karl Leonard told the RTD he has re­ceived near-daily phone calls, emails and text mes­sages from con­cerned fam­ily mem­bers who say their loves ones in­car­cer­ated at River­side are re­ceiv­ing poor or neg­li­gent med­i­cal care.

The jail is op­er­at­ing un­der a three-year pro­ba­tion­ary pe­riod after the sui­cides of two in­mates in 2017. In all, there were five in­mate deaths that year at River­side. State of­fi­cials have blamed staff short­com­ings and pol­icy vi­o­la­tions for the sui­cides.

This past month, after only nine months on the job, River­side’s new­est su­per­in­ten­dent re­signed. Col. Car­men I. DeSadier came to the lead­er­ship po­si­tion with 35 years of ex­pe­ri­ence turn­ing around trou­bled jails — in­clud­ing Chicago’s Cook County Jail. But the dread­ful sit­u­a­tion at River­side proved too much even for her.

In her res­ig­na­tion let­ter, she wrote that the fa­cil­ity’s op­er­a­tions were plagued with chronic dys­func­tion and a toxic work en­vi­ron­ment. She noted that staff at the jail were un­fa­mil­iar with “best prac­tices” in op­er­a­tions and the fa­cil­ity was be­set with un­san­i­tary con­di­tions and lack of hy­giene ac­com­mo­da­tions for in­mates. In the 108-page let­ter of res­ig­na­tion, DeSadier warned “that River­side had ex­pe­ri­enced long term man­age­ment ne­glect.”

This is in­ex­cus­able. We rec­og­nize that in­car­cer­a­tion isn’t sup­posed to be a bed of roses — but nei­ther should it be a death sen­tence.

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