Rhode Island Organizations Demand Transparency after Deaths of Incarcerated Individuals  

By Jocelyn Lopez 

CRANSTON, RI – Nine Rhode Island criminal justice organizations in late April sent a letter to Warne Salisbury, Jr., the director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (DOC), and other RI officials, including the governor, urging transparency from DOC after recent deaths at Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI).

The groups, dedicated to criminal justice reform and advocating for the rights of incarcerated individuals, are concerned after the death of four incarcerated individuals held at the ACI, noting in the letter, “This spate of deaths cries out for action.”

The organizations stated the DOC has provided limited information to the families and the public about the deaths and “the allegations that medical concerns raised by at least two the individuals before their deaths were not treated with the urgency they deserved.”

The organizations are demanding in their letter for the department to “address this situation…prompting greater transparency and accountability in the reporting and investigation of these deaths.”

One of the steps to transparency is to establish an independent investigation into the deaths of the four incarcerated individuals, according to the letter.

The organizations acknowledge the DOC may not have any influence over the individuals brought to its custody and some may arrive with morbidities and health issues.

However, the letter insisted the recent short period in which the four deaths occurred at the small systems in Rhode Island “is cause for great concern and warrants some proactive steps by the Departments.”

The organization admits while DOC did claim it took measures to resuscitate the individuals, the lack of transparency provides little detail, including whether the health issues of the individual were taken seriously beforehand, either while incarcerated or known to the DOC.

“In order to foster greater transparency, we therefore call upon you and the Department to adopt the following measures,” stated the groups, including an investigation on the recent deaths and on last year’s string of suicides.

The investigation should disclose the medical treatment and responses by medical staff and correctional officials during the prisoner’s time at ACI, said the organizations, suggesting the report should include recommendations to establish a protocol that can help avoid similar deaths in the future.

Additionally, the organizations requested families should be included regularly during the status of the investigations, and be provided all relevant information discovered by the Department.

The organizations also requested all information of the deceased individual such as name and age be released to the public in a timely manner, within the constraints of legitimate confidentiality and privacy concerns.

As the letter further notes, the organizations want the Department and the Department of Health to prioritize the “performance of autopsies in these deaths, and any future in-custody deaths, and publicly release the results as soon as possible.”

Lastly, the organizations request preservation of all “recorded audio and video footage” that may be relevant in an individual’s death.

The DOC stated the media unfairly paints correctional agencies “as uncaring, callous individuals,” but the organizations note the secrecy surrounding the recent deaths produces mistrust.

About The Author

Jocelyn Lopez is a fourth year student at the University of California, Davis studying International Relations with a minor in Tech Management. As an intern with the Davis Vanguard. Jocelyn hopes to expand her knowledge on the criminal justice system and interested in public service. Through her internship she hopes to take the knowledge and apply it to future careers whether it is pursuing a career in law school or following a different path. Jocelyn likes to read, travel, cook and watch all genres of movies.

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