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Aaron Hernandez death in Massachusetts prison highlights state's troubled history with inmate suicides

A 2016 report showed that the state prison suicide rate was twice the national average.

Aaron Hernandez seen in court in April 2015, facing charges of murder in the death of Odin Lloyd. He was convicted of the crime but that was overturned after his April 2017 suicide.

Photo: Reuters

Aaron Hernandez’s apparent suicide at a Massachusetts prison early Wednesday cast a spotlight on the state’s troubled history when it comes to inmate suicides.

The inmate suicide rate at Massachusetts state prisons is double the national rate, according to the Bureau of Judicial Statistics. The rate in Massachusetts is 32 suicides per 100,000 inmates, compared to the nationwide rate of 16 suicides per 100,000 inmates, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report released in December 2016.

Between 2001 and 2014, 47 inmates in Massachusetts state prisons committed suicide, according to the report.

Hernandez, a former New England Patriots star, was a convicted murderer in 2015, and on Friday, was acquitted of a double-homicide in a separate crime.

He was discovered hanged, with a bedsheet around his neck, at 3 a.m. on Wednesday, inside his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, a maximum security state prison in Shirley.

The Bureau of Justice report on suicides looked at statistics on mortality in state prisons between 2001 and 2014. The number of suicides in state prisons increased 30 percent nationwide from 2013 to 2014. In 2014, suicides in prisons accounted for 7 percent of all deaths there.

Statistics show that Massachusetts has the fourth highest prison suicide rate in the country. States with higher suicide rates are Montana (34 per 100,000 inmates), Utah (44 per 100,000 inmates) and Rhode Island (45 per 100,000 inmates).

More common causes of death in Massachusetts state prisons were from illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and liver.

The suicide rate in Massachusetts spiked from 2006 to 2007, prompting the Department of Correction to hire a consultant from the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives. Its subsequent report recommended “more suicide prevention training for staff members and more frequent checks for at-risk inmates,” according to the Patriot Ledger.

Four years later in 2011, a followup report found that new suicide-prevention training and other suggestions had been implemented.

While Hernandez was not on suicide watch at the time of his death, he was reportedly placed on suicide watch in 2015, after he had been sentenced to life in prison for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.