A series of deaths and attempted suicides at the Hudson County Correctional Facility (HCCF) in Kearny has caused county officials to review procedures and seek ways to lessen such incidents in the future, said Freeholder Anthony Romano last week.
The review initially followed the death of Dominick J. Ramunni, 41, of Bayonne, who collapsed and died in a housing unit on Jan. 14. Ramunni’s death occurred on the same day as an attempt at suicide by a 34-year-old Jersey City woman in her jail cell.
Cynthia Acosta was found hanging from a bed sheet and taken to Jersey City Medical Center. She was pronounced dead on Jan. 16. That marks the fifth death of an inmate in the jail since 2016.
Acosta, 34, was arrested by the North Bergen Police Department on Jan. 11 on a failure-to-appear warrant. Kennelly said Acosta had a number of outstanding traffic violations, including driving with a suspended license.
A preliminary report said that Ramunni appears to have died as a result of a pre-existing heart condition. Hudson County spokesperson Jim Kennelly said Ramunni, who was being held without bail after an allegation of stealing $2,000 from a Bayonne deli in November, could not be resuscitated by CPR.
A report released last month by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General listed HCCF as one of four immigration detention facilities that were found to have exposed detainees to inhumane treatment, denied them prompt medical care and served them food that had not been properly handled.
The report, based on interviews with detainees and staff members at five detention centers across the United States, is currently being reviewed by the freeholder Public Safety Committee, which is expected to issue recommendations for changes at the jail.
HCCF also serves as a holding facility for federal immigration detainees, and one died last year.
Suicide leads to review of jail
Both cases have been turned over to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office for review.
Romano said the Public Safety Committee will review the security measures at a meeting on Jan 23.
“This will be a review of issues such as monitoring and whether or not security cameras which are used throughout the jail have coverage in areas such as cell blocks,” Romano said.
The state Medical Examiner’s Office also released a report on one of two deaths that occurred in HCCF last year.
Jennifer Towle died in custody in July. Towle was sentenced in Weehawken Municipal Court and had two days remaining on a 180-day-sentence. She died as a result of having foreign objects in her stomach that included plastic food wrappers and a nail clipper.
Kennelly said Towle had been on a suicide watch since entering the jail and had been admitted in the past to Jersey City Medical Center for evaluation prior to her death.
The state Medical Examiner’s Office has ruled her death a suicide. The report also said she had a history of depression, mental illness and alcohol abuse, Kennelly said.
The detainee held for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICFE), Rolando Meza Espinoza, died at the facility in June. His cause of death has not been officially made public yet.
Committee formed after death in July
The Public Safety committee intends to review these incidents and will hold discussions with representatives from CFG Health Systems, the private company that provides health services at the jail.
Partly in response to the deaths in 2017, the freeholder board hired the National Commission of Correctional Health Care to perform an assessment of the jail’s health services.
Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise and Freeholder Board Chairman Anthony Vainieri ordered the review in July after Towle’s death to determine if the medical needs of patients in the jail as well as the connected detainee facility were receiving the needed medical and other services.
“The things we are primarily looking at is the process that takes place both with an initial intake on a person’s medical condition when they are admitted as well as when they are taken to either the infirmary or JCMC,” said Freeholder Bill O’Dea in July. “Particularly, we think that there needs to be an outside medical professional that reviews the recommendations for treatment, and either signs off or recommends a different course of action. Also, checks on medications that are needed and making sure the proper ones are being prescribed. There also needs to be a periodic check on patients’ progress.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.