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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Protestors gathered Tuesday at the Rhode Island State House to call for prison reform in the wake of three deaths at the ACI in Cranston.
Over the past few months, three men have reportedly died by suicide while incarcerated at the ACI, including 27-year-old Brian Rodenas of Pawtucket.
Rodenas’ family was at the rally, along with state lawmakers, advocates, and formerly incarcerated individuals. Some protesters held signs reading “No more deaths at the ACI” and “End long-term solitary confinement.”
Rodenas’ family said the Department of Corrections told them he was in solitary confinement for about 10 days, but they dispute that claim. They said Rodenas had called in March and told them he was in solitary confinement and could only call home every 30 days. He was found dead in solitary confinement on May 2.
“My son was begging for help and no one would help him,” said his mother, Elizabeth DePina. “He had such a good heart. How could they treat him like that?”
Another inmate who died was identified as 39-year-old Dana Thomas Leyland of Pawtucket, who was awaiting sentencing for a drug offense. The third man has not yet been named.
Brandon Robinson of Providence spoke out against solitary confinement at the protest, saying he was at the ACI for 15 years.
“When I was serving my time, I saw people who were violent, who needed to be separated from the rest of the population,” he recalled. “But I also saw people get put in solitary because their T-shirt wasn’t tucked in or they didn’t stand up fast enough at count. Right now, there’s no accountability, no regulations.”
State Sen. Jonathan Acosta and State Rep. Leonela Felix were at the rally too. They’ve introduced a bill that they say would establish an oversight committee and lay out clear guidelines for when solitary confinement should be used.
If the bill becomes law, solitary confinement would only be allowed as punishment for violent offenses, and it would be prohibited for inmates with developmental or psychiatric disabilities, except for in emergencies.
“This bill is not about banning solitary confinement,” Acosta noted. “It’s about reforming the system to ensure accountability and ensure the practice is used as a last resort.”
The Senate bill was heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 21, while the House Judiciary Committee took up the House bill on April 4. Both were held for further study.
12 News reached out to the R.I. Department of Corrections (RIDOC) which said in each of the three recent deaths, officers “immediately began performing CPR and other life-saving measures while they waited for Cranston Rescue to arrive.”
RIDOC also said it does not use solitary confinement: “To interchangeably compare Rhode Island’s modern Restrictive Housing protocols with an outdated practice like Solitary Confinement does great disservice to our State. RIDOC believes that every person, regardless of their status, deserves to be treated humanely, with dignity and respect.”
RIDOC added that it’s working with outside experts to continue updating its correctional practices and reduce the number of suicides in its facilities.
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