“Bensalem Man Third Inmate to Complete Suicide” and What NAMI Is Doing About It

Coroner: Bensalem man third inmate to complete suicide

By Jo Ciavaglia
Posted Jul 9, 2019 at 3:05 PM

Bucks County officials and its prison medical contractor are not answering questions about what measures they are taking to enhance inmate suicide prevention protocols. But a local mental health advocates believes the county has started taking steps in the right direction to address inmate mental health needs.

Bucks County officials are remaining tight-lipped about the circumstances surrounding the death of a 34-year-old Bensalem man, the third inmate to complete suicide at the Doylestown Township jail in a year.

Coroner Dr. Joseph Campbell on Monday confirmed that Christopher Buoniconti was found dead in his cell on July 2 shortly before 6 a.m.

Eight days earlier, Buoniconti was incarcerated after he was picked up on a bench warrant, Campbell said. The day of his death, Buoniconti was in a cell isolated from other inmates for an unspecified medical reason, Campbell said.

Corrections officers last observed Buoniconti in his cell at 5 a.m., he said. When they checked on him next at 5:50 a.m., he was dead, according to Campbell.

Campbell did not believe Buoniconti was on suicide watch at the time of his death, a status that would have triggered additional safety measures and monitoring.

Online court records show Buoniconti was scheduled for a probation violation hearing later this month. He pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia and was sentenced to one year of probation. Bensalem police also filed arrest warrants for Buoniconti charging him with misdemeanor and felony retail thefts which occurred on June 17 and 18, according to available court information.

The Bucks County Commissioners will not be releasing any additional information about Buoniconti’s death, spokesman Larry King said.

Todd Haskins, vice president of operations for PrimeCare Medical, which provides medical services at Bucks and Montgomery County jails, also declined comment, citing patient confidentiality. He also declined comment on whether the company has implemented or considered protocol changes with suicide prevention.

“PrimeCare Medical as a corporation is constantly reviewing, updating and providing enhancements to prevent self-harm actions by our patients,” Haskins wrote in an email request for comment.

This news organization did not receive any responses from an email sent to members of the county’s Prison Oversight Board, a group that includes commissioners, the Bucks County District Attorney, the chief public defender, and a Common Pleas Court judge for comment on what measures, if any, the prison or its private medical services contractor are taking to address suicide prevention among inmates.

But an outreach and development director for the Bucks County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness believes the county has recently stepped up its efforts to train corrections officers to recognize signs of suicidal behavior.

“I do believe they are doing the best they can to respond to mental illness and suicide ideation while keeping safety in mind,” Nicholas Emeigh said.

Correctional staff have been working with Emeigh to implement new mental health support groups at the jail that could begin before the end of the summer; six of the local chapter’s trained volunteers will lead the groups, he said. There are also plans to start expanded outreach at the jail including educational courses that will be offered to inmates with mental health conditions, their families and corrections staff.

“Even entertaining the idea of allowing us to have a support group program is a step in the right direction,” he added.

Emeigh said he hopes the support groups will show inmates they are not alone and show them services and supports available during and after they leave jail.

“I firmly believe that anyone who enters the jail with a mental illness deserves our support just as much as anyone else in Bucks County, and we will see them as a person, not their crime, and not their illness,” he said.

Last year two Bucks County inmates completed suicide while incarcerated in July and August, according to the county coroner. Neither inmate was on suicide watch protocols at the time of their deaths

Earlier this year, Steven Jimenez completed suicide the day after his 21st birthday while he was incarcerated at Montgomery County Correctional Center, according to the county coroner’s office and court records. At the time, Jimenez was being held on $500,000 bail on a charge of endangering the welfare of a child, according to Montgomery County spokesman John Corcoran.

Suicide surpassed natural causes as the leading cause of death among Pennsylvania county prisoners for the first time in 2016, according to state Department of Corrections data, which is self-reported by county jails. Last year nearly one-quarter of the state’s 68 county jails and detention centers reported at least one inmate died by suicide. Reports of attempted suicides in jails jumped from 159 to 218 between 2012 and last year, according to state data. At 38 reported suicide attempts last year, Montgomery County had the second-highest number behind Berks County with 43 inmate suicide attempts.