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Letters to the Herald

Herald left too many unanswered questions in prison suicides story


After reading the Sept. 1 article about the suicides in the Bucks county Correctional Facility, I agree with John Mathieu’s letter to the editor in the same issue, decrying the lack of research into the names of the white supremacy groups in an article about them. John suggested the sources where some digging could have informed readers of their names — but didn’t.

The Herald’s story about the “startling number of suicides” sounded like it would explore the potential accountability of our County’s prison. Some digging could have informed readers about it — but didn’t.

Instead, accepting the director’s blame on an “unprecedented wave of addicts,” and, inscrutably adding in “the availability of Narcan,” the article highlighted, with a large sterile photograph, the proposed new “safe cells” where a ligature cannot be tied. The “safe cells” do not ameliorate nor treat the cellmate’s misery, but they do prolong it.

This does not come close to answering whether the prison’s policies facilitate suicide or prevent them. Perhaps the suicides are not preventable. Who knows, after reading the article? It is up to the Herald to answer that for its readers.

What is the “detox protocol?” Is it unmedicated cold turkey? Why can’t the fully detoxed, be placed in the center if they are awaiting sentencing?

Why is it not possible for the reporter to “compare Bucks County’s jail death rate with similar institutions in the state,” instead of relying on the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections pathetic policy that “does not require prisons and jails to report the number of ‘adverse occurrences,’ the term used for deaths while in custody.

Were the suicides on “watch status?” Why not? The quote, “Those who commit suicide are usually not someone on watch. You don’t know what you don’t know” doesn’t answer that question nor why all detoxing addicts aren’t on watch. What made the CoreTrack, explained with such pride, so wondrously ineffective?

“The crux of good security is good touring.” What?

After reading the introduction that “acknowledging that the shocking number of suicides …has prompted questions,” I read further for some answers, at least about how the prison treats our addicted.

Instead, after these sentences: “They are in hard detox...” and “What once took three days, (to be cleared by medical staff for placement) now takes five to 12 days,” I was left with a nagging suspicion about the definition of hard detox, which sounds really important to explore.

And the “why” remained unanswered about the five to 12 days. Most important and overlooked is the question of the degree and timeliness of access to trained mental health professionals. The director’s accolades for his guards are well placed, but not a substitute for the answer to that question.

Democracy will fail if local newspapers like the Herald fail. If the Herald doesn’t provide quality information to its readers, the electorate, they wind up with only questions not facts, perpetuating uninformed voting and no government accountability.

Our local newspapers can easily be swallowed up by and become a few paltry paragraphs of pablum in the back pages of some national rag. What is happening locally then, will not be seen let alone questioned. I’d like the Herald to go out, if it must, or hopefully, if it stays, to aspire to the journalism awards that inspire writers and their readers.

Richard R. Fink, Doylestown