SALT LAKE CITY (CN) — The suicide rate in Utah prisons has been the worst in the nation for more than a decade, says a grandmother who sued the state this week, after her teenage grandson hanged himself after 154 days in "torturous" solitary confinement.
Janet Crane sued the Utah Department of Corrections and several of its top administrators on Monday for the death of her 19-year-old grandson, Brock Tucker. She also sued Futures Through Choices, a nonprofit that incarcerates juveniles for Utah; Universal Health Services, a profit-seeking corporation that holds juveniles for Utah in Provo, and related staff and directors, in Salt Lake County Court.
Crane says Tucker, the youngest of three children, nearly drowned and suffered brain damage at age 2, and joined a gang at age 13. His parents were heavy drug abusers and had a volatile relationship, according to the lengthy complaint.
Crane says that non-parties Utah Division of Child and Family Services and Juvenile Justice Services failed to protect her grandson from "severe" physical and psychological abuse at multiple juvenile facilities in his teens.
He was sent to the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison on auto theft and related charges at age 17, where he was "subjected to repeated periods of torturous solitary confinement" — 154 days of it in the last year of his life, before he "succumbed to the nightmare," his grandma says.
He committed suicide on Oct. 2, 2014, "by hanging himself from his upper bunk, in solitary confinement at the Central Utah Correctional Facility, only two months before he was hoping to be paroled," the complaint states.
From 2000 to 2013, Utah ranked first nationally in suicide rates among state and federal prisoners, and its suicide rate increased by more than 53 percent from 2012 to 2013, when it reached an all-time high since 2000, the year the U.S. Bureau of Justice began collecting data on prison suicides, the complaint states.
Crane says the Central Utah Correctional Facility "failed to adequately treat its mentally ill inmates, including Brock, and failed to recognize suicide risk and properly train officers to prevent suicide."
Even before he arrived at the Gunnison prison, Crane says, her grandson was assaulted by a staff member of Futures Through Choices, a 501(c)(3) corporation in Bountiful, operating on a contract with Utah.
That employee twisted Tucker's arm behind his back, grabbed him by the hair, pushed him into a bathroom in front of the mirror, and told Tucker that he was going to make him "cry like a bitch," according to the complaint.
A year later, Tucker was sent to Provo Canyon School, operated by Universal Health Services, where he was beaten by staff members repeatedly and had his head beaten into concrete until he was unconscious, his grandmother says.
Tucker was sentenced to punitive isolation and left alone in a cell at Central Utah Correctional Facility in 2013, the lawsuit states, and "permitted out of his cell, at most, one hour every other day, which was the only opportunity to take a shower; denied access to recreation, exercise equipment, and the library; denied any visitation; denied any phone calls; and denied commissary, which prevented him from being able to purchase materials needed to send letters to family and friends."
Crane says her grandson spent more than 154 days in punitive isolation over the next year, "which is recognized to be torture and known to cause insanity, and to cause emotional distress, depression, and crushing loneliness."
Tucker was diagnosed with unspecified psychosis and major depressive disorder, plus back pain and hepatitis C in 2014. Before he killed himself, his grandma says, he left this note: "Send my love to my family and my ex'z! I'm better off gone since I'm already gone! Thanx for nothing!"
Crane says the "horrific" conditions of isolated confinement "constitute a serious deprivation of basic human needs, including but not limited to: normal human contact, environmental and sensory stimulation, mental and physical health, physical exercise, sleep, nutrition, and meaningful activity."
The Utah Department of Corrections Director of Quality and Process Improvement Steve Gerhke declined comment.
Representatives for Futures Through Choices and Universal Health Services could not be reached by phone Wednesday.
Crane seeks punitive damages for cruel and unusual punishment, pain and suffering, deliberate indifference, failing to intervene and other civil rights charges.
She is represented by Ross Anderson with Lewis Hansen, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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