Police Practices Press Release

01.07.11

Suicide at Summit County Jail Raises Over-Crowding and Mental Health Care Concerns

ACLU Requests Information Detailing Jail's Policies

Read the letter to the Summit County Sheriff.

AKRON – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio expressed deep concern today over the recent suicide of Michael Carl O’Neill while incarcerated at the Summit County Jail. On January 2, O’Neill jumped from a second story ledge in an apparent suicide attempt. He was reportedly being housed with other inmates in an area typically used for outside visitation. In a letter to Sheriff Drew Alexander, the ACLU requested records detailing the county jail’s policies on housing inmates, the facilities where O’Neill was housed, and any mental health evaluation he was given.

“Any time a person commits suicide while in custody, it is cause for concern,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman. “The circumstances surrounding Mr. O’Neill’s death are troubling and may signal larger problems looming at the county jail.”

“Housing inmates in a large common area typically used for other purposes raises red flags over potential safety flaws and indicates that the jail may be dangerously overcrowded,” added Hardiman. “In addition, officials should answer what, if any, mental health screening was provided to Mr. O’Neill and why officials did not discover he might be suicidal.”

According to news reports, O’Neill was arrested on December 30 after he was found intoxicated in the hallway of a local hospital. He was supposed to be arraigned on Dec. 31, but was instead issued summonses for Jan. 3, and kept for the next two nights at the county jail.

Research indicates that nearly half of all prison and jail suicides occur within the first week a person is incarcerated, and that intoxication when arrested is also a risk factor for suicide.

“Mr. O’Neill’s death raises many important questions that cry out for a comprehensive investigation and examination of jail policies. The safety and security of both prisoners and jail personnel must be of the utmost concern. We cannot risk another tragedy because of indifference, inaction, or flawed policies,” Hardiman concluded.