Indifference Can Equal Liability
Brandon Palakovic, 23, was convicted of burglary in western Pennsylvania and sentenced to 16-48 months in prison. Brandon was a disturbed young man who reported prior attempts to harm himself and current suicidal thoughts to prison intake personnel who classified him as a suicide risk. That initial assessment aside, prison officials failed miserably to protect Brandon thereafter and he committed suicide. His parents brought suit in federal court for 8th Amendment violations (Cruel & Unusual punishment), which the district court denied, and was appealed to the Third Circuit (that includes Michigan), which overturned the lower court.
The Court found severe deficiencies in the prison's mental health handlings including a practice of imposing solitary confinement for long periods of time despite knowing that most suicides occur in solitary. Brandon received no mental health counseling or treatment or any intervention efforts after the suicide risk classification.
The Department of Justice was conducting a review of the prison at the time and reportedly found serious deficiencies in the system as well.
Indifference by prison staff and officials is actionable in civil court, so said the Third Circuit, but more importantly it cost Brandon his life.
The case is Palakovic v Wetzel (16-2726).