A 36-year-old prisoner died of a suspected suicide on Sunday at the Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury, the Vermont Department of Corrections said on Monday.
Michael Dupont was found unconscious in his cell with a bedsheet wrapped around his neck shortly after 3 p.m. Staff tried unsuccessfully to revive him before he was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The Barre City man had been arraigned December 17 on several charges including burglary, according to the Washington County State’s Attorney’s Office. Since then, he’d been kept in isolation at Northeast as required by the Department of Corrections’ COVID-19 protocols, interim Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker told reporters on Monday.
Each incoming inmate is tested for the virus multiple times and is quarantined for 14 days before joining the general population, Baker said. Staff are required to look in on isolated inmates every 30 minutes, he added.
“Leading up to the incident last night, we believe he had been checked on according to protocol,” he said.
In light of the suspected suicide, Baker said he had directed staff to check on isolated inmates every 15 minutes.
“I talked to Defender General Matt Valerio today, and we’re going to start a conversation about bringing some experts together in the field of mental health treatment to try to talk about taking a look at our process, and the isolation that people end up in when they’re by themselves entering into the system,” Baker said. “So there’s further discussion that’s going to occur on that.”
Baker said the death was the second act of self harm in the prison system this year. While in quarantine at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, Wayne LePage also used a bedsheet to try to hang himself. He survived the July suicide attempt but was hospitalized with serious injuries.
Baker said there’d be an internal review of Dupont’s death, which comes exactly one week after a Vermont inmate held at a private prison in Mississippi was found dead in his cell. The commissioner said Monday that he didn’t yet have results from the Mississippi medical examiner’s office and declined to comment on the cause or manner of death for 59-year-old Roberto Vargas.
Vargas' death, Baker added, does not appear to be suspicious.