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Found hanged in his cell Saturday afternoon, Perry M. Ziko was the fourth inmate to die by suicide in the Allen County Jail during the past eight years.
Sheriff's spokesman Capt. Steve Stone told The Journal Gazette's Matthew LeBlanc Tuesday jail officers “did nothing wrong. They were not negligent in any way.” The incident remains under investigation.
The 44-year-old Ziko was arrested Sept. 11, after his girlfriend told police she passed out and fell down a flight of stairs after he had put her in a headlock. “There was nothing that led anyone to believe that he was suicidal,” Stone said in an interview Wednesday.
Had jail officers known there was a problem, Stone said, they could have taken several precautions. They could have arranged to monitor Ziko's cell more frequently or even have placed him in a centrally located suicide-watch cell that would have allowed closer observation in person and by TV camera, and quicker response. The inmate could have been given special blankets that can't easily be knotted, and monitored even more closely, Stone said.
But it's impossible for jailers to judge by appearances whether someone is contemplating a suicide attempt, Stone said. “I don't know that anyone's happy to be in jail.”
According to an investigation this year by the Associated Press and Capital News Service, “Suicide, long the leading cause of death in U.S. jails, hit a high of 50 deaths for every 100,000 inmates in 2014, the latest year for which the government has released data. That's 2.5 times the rate of suicides in state prisons and more than three times the suicide rate in the general population.”
The causes and solutions of jail suicide are of course diverse and elusive. Nationally, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center, there are 10 times more people with severe mental illness in state prisons and jails than in mental facilities, and according to U.S. Justice Department statistics, more than a third of those who die by suicide in jail had a history of mental illness. The closing of mental hospitals in Indiana forced jails to accept prisoners with mental illness; jail officials here and around Indiana have often noted that their facilities are not designed and equipped to warehouse or treat such inmates.
Adding to those challenges is that most jails, including Allen County's, are sometimes at or over capacity. Stone said he didn't immediately know how many inmates the jail was dealing with at the time of Ziko's death. But, he added, “I can't say if we were overcrowded that would have been a contributing factor.”
What is certain is that Ziko's death was a tragic waste. As were the hanging deaths of 48-year-old Robert Stanley Tyrrell, in 2014; 46-year-old Craig Mitchell Schowe, in 2012; and 54-year-old James Michael Kelly, in 2011. None of those inmates was charged with a capital offense; all of them died while in custody.
Jail and county officials and state lawmakers should be asking if enough is being done to prevent tragedies such as these.