Cooperating attorneys for the ACLU of Rhode Island have today filed three lawsuits against Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) supervisors and staff on behalf of the family members of three individuals who died by suicide at the prison within the span of five months last year. Two of the individuals are believed to have been held in solitary confinement. The complaints allege that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to the decedents’ known suicide risk, and that the failure to properly intervene or provide them necessary medical care was negligent and violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”

The three deceased individuals on whose behalf the suits have been brought are:

  • Dana Leyland, 39 years old, who was awaiting trial on drug offenses in April 2023 and suffering withdrawal symptoms from substance use disorder when he hanged himself with a bed sheet while in solitary confinement.
  • Brian Rodenas, 27 years old, who had a history of severe mental illness which prison officials were aware of. They nonetheless repeatedly housed him in solitary confinement and, the suit alleges, took no action to abate the risk of suicide despite his informing prison officials of his intent to do so. He hanged himself with a bed sheet in May 2023.
  • Peter De Los Santos, 35 years old, who had a known history of substance use disorders and was awaiting trial at the Intake Service Center. While, like Mr. Leyland, he was suffering withdrawal symptoms from his substance use disorder, he hanged himself with his shoelaces in August 2023.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 27 inmates died by suicide in Rhode Island prisons between 2001 and 2019. There were at least four deaths by suicide at the ACI in 2023; prison officials made no public acknowledgement of them until three had taken place in the first five months of the year. For months, the family members have been trying, unsuccessfully, to obtain detailed information about the circumstances surrounding the deaths. They hope these lawsuits will ensure greater transparency and expose inadequacies in prison operations.

As the result of a separate pending ACLU lawsuit, federal court action in August led to solitary confinement reform at the prison: a general limit of thirty days on the length of time that prisoners can be placed in solitary, a mandate that prison officials first consider a person’s mental health before placing them there, and restrictions on the type of conduct that can lead to this punishment. Advocacy groups pressing for the end of solitary confinement (sometimes also called “segregation” or “restrictive housing”) have noted the physical and psychological toll that it can take on those subjected to it, including an increased risk of suicide. In recent months, however, the court-directed limits on the use of segregation at the ACI have prompted criticism from the correctional officers’ union.

Today’s lawsuits were filed by ACLU of Rhode Island cooperating attorneys Mark Decof, Jeffrey Mega and Shad Miller, from the law firm of Decof, Mega & Quinn, P.C. The suits seek compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the families.

ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown said today, “These three deaths were tragedies, and they highlight all too unfortunately the critical need to vastly limit the cruel and too-extensive use of solitary confinement at the ACI. The loss of these lives is only compounded by the lack of transparency surrounding their passing.” Brown noted that the Department of Corrections has been without a permanent medical director for almost two years and that the ACLU has called on the agency to make filling the position a priority.

There appear to have been at least five prisoner and detainee deaths at the ACI this year – including one just this past week – although none of them, to the ACLU’s knowledge, have been classified as suicides.