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NH Mom: Jail Should Not Be a Death Sentence

March 31, 2008

Concord, NH - Going to jail should not be a death sentence. That's what Constance Cuddemi said, when her son hanged himself less than an hour after arriving at the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord for a parole violation. Cuddemi sued to make corrections officials do a better job of screening new arrivals for the risk of suicide.

"They're people, you know? Regardless of what -- God forbid -- they've done, they're still people, and they still need to be entered into the prison in the proper way."

According to Cuddemi, state officials have made great strides in the five years since her son died. Among the improvements are better intake policies to detect suicidal behavior and mental illness before prisoners enter the lockup, as well as physical changes that help officers keep a better watch over new arrivals.

Although she also received $85,000 in a settlement with the state, she explains she was really looking for a positive outcome from her personal tragedy.

"What was really important to me was for no other mother or wife, or anybody, to have their loved one die like that, you know, when it's avoidable."

Research from the National Alliance on Mental Illness indicates 16 percent of people in prisons suffer from mental illness, and confirms a high correlation between mental illness and suicide.

John Robinson/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - NH