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From inmate's daughter to suicide at the same prison

Email|Print| Text size + By Jonathan Saltzman
Globe Staff / December 10, 2007

She was born in the fall of 1968, shortly after her mother, an inmate at MCI-Framingham, went into labor at the state's only prison for women. She died 31 years later after hanging herself with a bed sheet at the same prison.

For Rachael Day, suicide was the last desperate act of a woman whose life began pitifully and ended the same way.

By the time of her death on Jan. 5, 2000, she had been charged with nearly 80 street crimes, used as much heroin and cocaine as she said she could find, and lived with a violent drug dealer who fathered two of her four children.

But although Day's death in the prison where her mother bore her had a harrowing symmetry, it could have been prevented, her family said in a wrongful death lawsuit pending against the state in Suffolk Superior Court.

Day had made at least two prior suicide attempts, according to prison and court records. Just 21 days before she died, she hanged herself with a shirt while left alone for five to seven minutes in a cell in the lockup at the US District Courthouse in Boston, where she was being held on a federal probation violation. But she survived.

Day's mother, Kathleen Day, contends in the suit that medical staff at the Framingham prison - where Rachael Day was transferred after the suicide attempt - inadequately evaluated the risk of another attempt and took her at her word when she said she had not intended to kill herself in the lockup incident.

Rachael Day's own assessment was plainly unreliable, the suit said.

"She was brain-damaged, and she was telling everybody she was going to kill herself," Kathleen Day, who also has a record of drug offenses and other crimes, said in an interview. "Definitely, it could have been prevented."

Day's family has been in settlement talks for months with the state and Correctional Medical Services, a contractor that helped provide mental health services at the prison.

But Rachael Day's eldest daughter, Kathleen U. Carter, a 21-year-old student at Cambridge College, said she sometimes wishes the case would go to trial to expose the state's care of her mother. She said her mother should have been on a suicide watch in Framingham.

Victoria A. Crawshaw, a lawyer defending Correctional Medical Services, declined to comment on the case. Attorney General Martha Coakley's office referred questions to the Department of Correction, which said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Day's suicide was one of six at the prison since 1995, although only one occurred after 2000.

Sixty-five percent of female inmates have open mental health cases, nearly three times the rate of male inmates, according to a 2004 study of the state prison system by a commission headed by former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger.

Linda Taylor, a former inmate who said she knew Day from Roxbury and as a cellmate at Framingham for six months in 1989, returned to prison in 2000, shortly after Day's suicide. Other inmates told her that it was obvious Day intended to kill herself, she said.

"Everyone that was in prison at the time was telling me how you could see in her face that there was something wrong and that she was doing distant-talking, like saying good-bye to everybody, that she couldn't do time anymore, and that it was more or less etched in stone that she was going to do it," Taylor recalled in a recent interview outside her job at a Roxbury furniture store.

Jonathan Shapiro, one of the lawyers representing Rachael Day's estate, has sued the state at least three other times as a result of suicides by inmates at MCI-Framingham, which opened in 1877 and is the oldest operating women's prison in the United States.

The suicides, he said, illustrate a pattern in which "a woman who the authorities either knew, or certainly should have known, presented a risk, and they didn't do anything about it."

The family of Tina Siano, another Framingham inmate who committed suicide, said in a pending lawsuit against the state that Siano twice tried to kill herself - once by hanging and once by swallowing razor blades - in the weeks before she succeeded on May 27, 2000.

Despite warnings by mental health staff that she be watched, correction officers put her in a cell at the end of a long corridor, where they would have to walk a long distance to check on her, the suit said. And they let her wear a belt that she used to hang herself from a rod in a closet in her cell.

After the suicide, the rods were removed from the closets as a precaution, the prison's retired superintendent, Barbara J. Guarino, said in a deposition in November 2006.

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