Deceased inmate's father calls for reform after rash of Halawa suicides

Deceased inmate's father calls for reform after rash of Halawa suicides
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HALAWA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The father of a Halawa Correctional Center inmate who committed suicide while incarcerated is calling for changes to the way the state treats mentally ill prisoners.

28-year-old Joseph O'Malley killed himself in his prison cell in July, just days after corrections officials took him off of suicide watch. He was the third inmate to take his or her life in as many months.

"This shouldn't happen to anyone. There was no excuse," said his father, attorney Michael O'Malley. "To me it was a lack of caring. It was institutional neglect. I would like to see meaningful reform of our prison system."

"To me, by definition, something is terribly wrong," he added.

O'Malley, whose father says was bipolar and heard voices in his head, had bounced around between Hawaii's mental health and prison systems over the years. He ended up in Halawa as part of a six-year sentence for robbing a cab driver with a fake gun.

O'Malley blames prison officials for not providing his son access to the mental health services he needed while incarcerated. Now, he says he wants prison officials to invest more in mental health services.

Prison officials declined to discuss O'Malley's case, which is ongoing.

"We do everything we can to prevent inmates from committing suicide," said Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety.

O'Malley says the state has yet to explain to his family how his son died, noting that all he received was a phone call from an ACO with the news

"(He) said my son had attempted suicide, (but) that didn't alarm me because he had attempted before by cutting," said O'Malley. "He said he's at Pali Momi. What's his condition? 'Oh, he stay brain dead.' Thanks a lot."

O'Malley's suicide comes as the DPS takes continued criticism over the way it handles mentally ill prisoners. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state over inadequate health, as well as poor mental care and prison overcrowding.

Attorney Eric Seitz, who is working with families of other inmates who have committed suicide, is looking to file a class-action lawsuit against the state.

"The care those people received was atrocious. It's not only malpractice. It amounted to punishment," Seitz said.

O'Malley says he isn't sure if he'll join the suit but says he's committed to fixing the system.

"It's the best way to honor my son's life is to try to make sure there's some change, that his death would not have been in vain," he said.

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