The Dauphin County Prison
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The Dauphin County Prison
(Harrisburg) — Over the past five years, 10 people housed in Dauphin County Prison have died, four of them from suicide, according to information shared by county Corrections Director Brian Clark.
That information comes as Dauphin County investigators continue their probe into the death of Ty’rique Riley, 21, who fell unconscious at the prison in June and died earlier this month.
“While the investigation into Ty’rique Riley’s death is ongoing, we are unable to comment on any aspects of the case,” Clark said in a written response to questions from PennLive. “We again want to extend our condolences to Mr. Riley’s family.”
Riley was incarcerated in Dauphin County Prison, where he fell unconscious on June 26, and later died July 1 at an area hospital.
Officials have called his death the result of a “medical crisis.” On Tuesday, county District Attorney Fran Chardo, whose office is leading the investigation into Riley’s death, said it will be impossible to determine just what that medical crisis was until the results of an autopsy are released.
“I’m using it in the broad sense because we just don’t know what happened,” Chardo said. “I’m not ruling anything out.”
Earlier this week, county Coroner Graham Hetrick said his office also is investigating, and a cause and manner of death could be released “in another week.”
Riley was arrested on June 18 in Susquehanna Township after striking his father, Thomas Mathews, with a sledge hammer, according to police. The attack may have been the result of a mental health crisis, officials said.
Last week, Chardo provided a timeline of the events that led to Riley’s death, beginning with his arrest. According to Chardo, Riley was placed under suicide watch while lodged in the prison, where he remained until June 26.
During prison intake, inmates are given physical and mental evaluations to determine whether they may attempt suicide, Clark said. When a prisoner is determined to be a suicide risk, monitoring procedures are put in place, he said.
“Some of our precautions include dressing potentially suicidal inmates in special clothing and blankets that cannot be knotted or otherwise used as a way to inflict self-harm and increased monitoring based on their level of risk,” Clark said.
Clark said he could not share the prison’s suicide prevention policy because of “safety concerns” for the prisoners. However, he offered assurances that procedures either meet or exceed federal standards.
“Despite our best efforts, unfortunately, some inmates do find a way to hurt themselves,” Clark said.
In the past five years, there have been 10 death of prisoners lodged in Dauphin County Prison, according to information provided by Clark.
Of those deaths, four were suicides. Five were the result of “natural causes.” The cause of the last death — Riley’s — still has not been determined.
A full list of those deaths can be seen below:
On June 26, mental health advocates and jail staff determined Riley needed to be seen at the prison’s medical center, where it was decided that he should be treated at an outside hospital, according to Chardo’s account of events.
Guards took Riley back to his cell so he could change out of a “suicide smock” and into regular clothing. But he became uncooperative in the cell and guards struggled with him, eventually placing him in a restraint chair, Chardo said.
Once Riley was in the chair, he became unresponsive and emergency medical responders were called. He was taken to a hospital, where he died on July 1.
On Tuesday, Chardo said surveillance cameras exist within the prison, but the entire ordeal was not captured on video.
“Within cells, you can’t have video,” Chardo said. “They have privacy rights inside of their cells.”
County Commissioner Mike Pries, who has been tasked with prison oversight, said an internal review also is being conducted into the events that led to Riley’s death.
The results of that review, which is being conducted by prison administrators and “appropriate staff,” will be reported to the Dauphin County Board of Prison Inspectors, Pries said.
Pries leads the decision-making board, which is made up of the county commissioners, district attorney, sheriff, controller and president judge.
The prison board is solely responsible for governing and policing policies and procedures at the prison, according to Sue McNaughton with the state Department of Corrections. State officials conduct periodic inspections of county prisons, only to ensure that they are meeting “minimum requirements” established in the Pennsylvania Code, she said.
The prison board is scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the prison at 501 Mall Road, Harrisburg. Pries said Riley’s death probably will be discussed.
The actions of prison staff before and after Riley’s death have been criticized by members of the public on social media and at a Saturday protest outside of the prison.
There, Riley’s father, Matthews, said prison staff failed to contact him or other family members when his son was taken from the prison to a hospital. They weren’t notified until a day later, when a Susquehanna Township police officer broke the news. And that was only after the family members waited for an hour and a half to attend Riley’s scheduled preliminary hearing, which would never be held.
“If an inmate becomes seriously ill or dies, we make every effort to notify the appropriate family members in a timely fashion,” Clark said. “In cases where we do not have family contact information, we request that the Dauphin County Criminal Investigation Division does a background search to locate relatives we can contact.”
Now, community activists with the Concerned Citizens of the HBG Community group are taking to Facebook to bring attention to the deaths at the prison and to call for protests every Saturday until changes are made.
On Tuesday, Clark said prison officials routinely review procedures and make changes where they are needed.
“Due to the nature of the individuals that come into our criminal justice system, the hard truth is that prisons can, at times, be a dangerous environment,” Clark said. “Many inmates are struggling with addiction or have other issues that cause them to act out. If an inmate becomes combative, our staff is trained to use the minimum force necessary, and pepper spray is the only defensive tool carried by our correctional officers.”
On Monday, the guards who interacted with Riley remained in their roles, Pries said, explaining there had been no suspensions or disciplinary actions made.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” Pries said. “Any such determination one way or another would be premature while the investigation is ongoing.”
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