Metro

Aaron Hernandez’s reported mode of suicide unusual for facility

The executive director of the statewide inmate-advocate organization said she believes Aaron Hernandez’s death is the first reported successful suicide by an inmate hanging a sheet from a window at the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski prison, as authorities say Hernandez did.

Leslie Walker, executive director of the nonprofit Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, which serves indigent inmates, said the state had a worse-than-average inmate suicide rate a decade ago but had done some work to “suicide proof” its facilities, such as installing clothing hooks that collapse if too much weight is placed on them.

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Walker, from past visits to the prison, described the layout of the standard maximum-security cells there. The windows are small rectangles about three feet off the ground, and the metal frame is flush with the glass, leaving no easy way to slip a sheet through or around the metal, she said.

“It’s designed as a supermax prison, so it’s mostly cement and then the frame around the window is metal,” Walker said. “I imagine there would be an opportunity to figure out a way to pry that metal, but I had not heard of it before.”

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“There is not a ledge, so I don’t think he could have jumped off the ledge. But there is a desk built into the wall close to the window,” providing a possibility, Walker said.

Hernandez’s agent, Brian Murphy tweeted Wednesday morning that there was “absolutely no chance he took his own life.”

At Souza-Baranowski, most inmates spend 19 hours a day in their cell, leaving for some gym time and for three weekly outdoor recreation periods in a caged deck at the end of their cell block, Walker said.

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Some inmates eat in a cafeteria while others “feed in block,” meaning they are brought their meals in their cells from a cart, she said.

The state has four basic tiers of security for inmates: maximum, medium, minimum, and minimum/pre-release. Inmates convicted of first-degree murder, as Hernandez was in 2015, customarily begin with two years in maximum security.

After that, they are eligible to move to medium security according to the state’s point-based classification system, which considers age, criminal history, prison disciplinary history, any escape history, education, and other factors — meaning Hernandez may have been eligible for a transfer soon, Walker said.

As of last week, the state had 900 inmates in maximum security cells at Souza-Baranowski and 176 in maximum-security medical or support beds.

John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Eric Moskowitz can be reached at eric.moskowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeMoskowitz.
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