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Government and Politics

Report sheds light on high profile prison suicides
Experts hired by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction evaluate both Billy Slagle and Ariel Castro's suicides

Karen Kasler
Chris Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, says he isn't surprised prison workers were absolved for those suicides.
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The state has released a final report on two high profile suicides this summer, one a death row inmate and another a notorious rapist and kidnapper. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports.

LISTEN: The final report on Castro and Slagle's suicides

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The report from two corrections consultants hired by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction concludes that both Billy Slagle and Ariel Castro did commit suicide.

Slagle and Castro died a month apart – Slagle in the prison in Chillicothe in August, Castro in the lockup in Orient sound of Columbus in September. Both were found hanging in their cells.

The report details journal entries in which Castro wrote about being depressed, and of his frustration with his cell being dirty, his food not being warm and the guards he felt were rude and mistreating him. The report outlines an area of Castro’s cell where there were photos and Bible verses carefully positioned as giving the appearance of a shrine. Interestingly, a State Highway Patrol report describes Slagle’s suicide note in which he writes that he’s angry he has to face what he called an inconsistent and arbitrary death penalty but that Castro did not. 

There had been questions about Castro’s death in particular, and whether he had intended to kill himself or whether his death happened accidentally as part of a sex act. The DRC’s JoEllen Smith says the report absolves prison workers for those suicides. 

“What the report states and concludes is that while there was staff misconduct involved in both of these cases with officers not properly conducting their rounds, that the suicides themselves cannot be contributed to DRC staff.”

That’s not a surprise to Chris Mabe, the president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, which has been standing behind prison workers. But Mabe says there was something that he wanted to see in the report but didn’t. 

“We were kind of disappointed that there’s no mention of the prisons being overcrowded and what effect it has on security. The report made no connections and shows the limits of the report itself.”

The state’s prisons population has been declining over the last few years – but it’s still over capacity at 131% of the population it was built to house. The OCEA union has repeatedly brought up concerns of overcrowding and staff levels. Smith says the report did not address staffing levels, but says it did deal with concerns about how workers are prepared and educated by the prison system. 

“Several of the recommendations focus on staff training – to enhance staff training across the board for all DRC staff, and to also create specialized staff training for those individuals who work in areas such as segregation or death row or other areas identified as restrictive housing areas.”

DRC also notes that one staff member who had been on paid administrative leave has resigned. All the others have been issued a warning that if there are any additional violations in the next two years, they’ll be fired.
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