McHenry County Jail Suicide Terrified of Going Back to Joliet

Thomas Puchmelter hung himself in his McHenry County Jail cell last weekend.

While the Sheriff’s Office has not released much information. Daily Herald reporter Harry Hitzeman writes that a Freedom of Information request has been filed for the internal investigation report, which Undersheriff Andy Zinke says is not completed.

What struck my eye in the Daily Herald story was the following paragraph about an interview with his mother, an assault on whom led to his jailing:

Thomas J. Puchmelter decided death was better than state prison. This is the photo of when he was arrested by Crystal Lake Police.

She says Thomas was taking anti-anxiety medication and was probably mentally ill. She said her son went to prison in Joliet earlier in his life and was terrified of going back.

With all the correspondence I have received from men who have been raped in prison during my last six years in the Illinois General Assembly, please excuse me if I think such an experience might have been going through Thomas Puchmelter’s mind as he debated whether life in prison could be worse than death.

The following letter from Just Detention International Executive Director Lovisa Stannow about the U.S. Justice Department’s belated request (regulations were supposed to go into effect last July 1st, according to the law) for comments on its proposed rape in prison regulations provides up to date information:

Justice Department Confirms Appalling Human Rights Crisis: 216,600 Inmates Sexually Abused in One Year

At long last, yesterday the Department of Justice launched its 60-day public comment period on proposed national standards addressing sexual abuse in detention. In an extensive report, the Department also released, for the first time, its own estimate of the number of inmates who endured sexual abuse while behind bars in a one-year period: 216,600.

That’s right: 216,600. This number is a devastating confirmation of what JDI has claimed for years — sexual abuse in U.S. detention is a horrific, nationwide human rights crisis.

Let’s put 216,600 in perspective: almost 600 prisoners a day are subjected to rape and other forms of sexual abuse while in the government’s care.

Or, put differently, 25 inmates are abused every hour of every day.

That number reflects only the first time each person was victimized during a one-year period; the number of incidents of sexual abuse is several times higher, as many inmates are assaulted again and again.

Prisoner rape survivors continue to be locked up with their assailants, unable to escape — forced to live in constant fear of another attack, their trauma renewed every time they see their abusers. These are our fellow human beings; men, women, and children who one day will return home to their families and communities.

At JDI, we hope that these shocking numbers will, once and for all, force the corrections community to acknowledge the full extent of the crisis of sexual abuse and rally in favor of strong national standards to end it.

After an initial review, we can say that the revised standards contain both positive points — such as requiring staff to consider the factors that make someone more vulnerable to abuse when making housing decisions — as well as negative ones — such as allowing prison grievance policies to put harsh limits on how much time a survivor has after an assault to file a formal report.

As we continue our analysis of the standards, we will provide you with further updates and insights — and we encourage all of our supporters and allies to join us in providing feedback on the revised standards.

After the conclusion of the 60-day public comment period (March 24) the Department of Justice will review the input it has received and modify the measures before formalizing them as federal regulations. According to the press release accompanying the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Justice Department plans to complete this process before the end of 2011.

Thank you for helping us make sure that the Department of Justice and corrections facilities across the country take seriously their responsibility to end the sexual abuse of inmates.

Lovisa Stannow,
Executive Director


McHenry County Jail Suicide Terrified of Going Back to Joliet — 4 Comments

  1. now he knew how his mother felt when she seen him coming to her to hit his mom. plus now Thomas helped us save money.good republican.

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