A Connecticut inmate, 32, hanged himself in his cell this week using a prison-issued face mask given to him to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to authorities.
Daniel Ocasio, from Windsor, Connecticut, was found with a ligature around his neck by prison guards at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center early Wednesday morning.
The ligature had been fashioned from a cloth mask, the Department of Corrections said.
Ocasio’s death comes amid a growing storm over the distribution of face masks among the prison population as advocates say they are vital to protecting inmates trapped in the virus hotbeds.
But prison guards warn inmates could use them to harm themselves and others.
A Connecticut inmate, 32, hanged himself in his cell at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center (pictured) this week using a prison-issued face mask given to him to prevent the spread of COVID-19
The Connecticut Department of Correction said guards discovered Ocasio at 5:07 a.m. Wednesday when they were carrying out a routine tour of the facility.
Ocasio was sitting on his cell bunk with the ligature made from the cloth mask tied round his neck, the department said.
Staff carried out emergency life-saving measures on the 32-year-old and he was rushed to hospital, but he was pronounced dead just before 6 a.m. that morning.
Ocasio had been held in the prison on a $10,000 bond since August 5 on a third-degree burglary charge.
His death was ruled a suicide Thursday by the medical examiner’s office.
State police and the Department of Correction have launched investigations into his death.
Coronavirus infections have been rife among the American prison population, as high populations, cramped conditions and unsanitary environments are ideal breeding grounds for the deadly virus.
Latest figures from the Department of Correction reveal 1,344 Connecticut inmates have contracted COVID-19 – accounting for a staggering 14 percent of all inmates in the state’s prisons.
Daniel Ocasio was found with a ligature around his neck by prison guards at the prison early Wednesday morning. The ligature had been fashioned from a cloth mask, the Department of Corrections said
Seven inmates have been killed by the virus and more than 386 corrections employees have also been infected.
Concerns that prisons are hotbeds for the virus have led to new safety measures including the roll out of prison-issue face masks.
Inmates at Connecticut state facilities are now required to wear the cloth masks when they leave their cells and enter common areas in order to slow the spread of the virus.
However, the distribution of masks in prisons has sparked fierce debate about the risks they may pose to both inmates and staff.
Madison County Jail in Alabama came under fire last month when an inmate revealed inmates are banned from wearing masks and that he had his mask confiscated when he was booked in to the facility.
Courtney Moore, 33, told AL.com in July he had his mask taken from him after being arrested for attending a protest and that staff were also not wearing the protective gear.
A spokesman for the Madison County sheriff told the outlet at the time that the ban was issued amid concerns inmates could harm themselves or others with the metal nose pieces or by tying several masks together to make ropes.
‘You give them face masks (with) a nose piece — metal pieces in them — they’re going to eat them,’ Brent Patterson told AL.com.
‘They’re going to swallow them.’
Meanwhile, over in California, a group of inmates sued Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux last month for failing to provide them with face masks.
The lawsuit was filed to force the sheriff to take immediate action – including widespread testing of inmates and staff, releasing low-risk inmates and providing protective gear – to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in the jail.
A spokeswoman for Connecticut state prisons Karen Martucci acknowledged to the New York Times that Ocasio’s death could ignite the debate about masks in the prison system and that the use of the mask as a ligature would be investigated.
‘With that being said, there are all sorts of authorized materials that could be used to self-harm,’ she said.
‘We are not going to have a knee-jerk reaction here.’
More than 167,000 Americans have died from coronavirus and 5.2 million have been infected.
- For confidential support in the US call National Suicide Prevention Line, 1-800-273-8255
- For confidential support in the UK call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details
- In Australia, call the Lifeline 24-hour crisis support on: 13 11 14