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Legal Aid Society suing DOCCS to get suicide report

Jan 30, 2022 5:45 am

Brendan J. Lyons is reporting for the Times Union the Legal Aid Society has taken legal action against the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in an effort to secure a court order compelling the agency to release an expert's report on the high rate of suicides in the state's prisons. The petition was filed this week in state Supreme Court in Albany. "Over the past several years, the suicide rate inside DOCCS prisons has soared, far exceeding national averages," the petition alleges. "In 2019 alone, the suicide rate inside DOCCS prisons was 88 percent higher than the national average." The petition also notes that at least 30 percent of the suicides that occurred in state prisons in 2019, "occurred in solitary confinement, and the rate of suicides in solitary in New York’s prisons was 10 times the national prison suicide rate." People of color made up 65 percent of the deaths by suicide in solitary confinement. When Legal Aid requested the DOCCS commissioned report by Lindsay Hays, a national expert on suicide prevention, the agency issued a blanket denial of the request, contending the report contains Hayes' "opinion, advice and recommendations," making it exempt from disclosure. The department also asserted the report constitutes "inter/intra-agency materials which are not final agency policy or decisions, statistical or factual tabulations, external audits, or instructions to staff that affect the public." But the society argues that "given the staggering number of suicides in DOCCS’ prisons, and given Hayes’ unquestioned expertise in this field, the public interest in Hayes’ report is substantial." The Legal Aid Society is the nation's oldest legal services organization, providing free assistance to low-income individuals and families. Read the full story in the Times Union.

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