Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux — who campaigned for the job in part by pointing out his opponent’s poor record on inmate suicides — had been in the new post about 12 hours when he got the word from his staff: an inmate had apparently hanged himself in his cell at the Jail and House of Correction in North Dartmouth. 

The former Mayor of Attleboro was already home when he got the call shortly after 8 p.m. on Jan. 4, so he headed back to the jail complex to be there for the steps that follow these events. He talked with the jail superintendent; he talked with the officer who found the inmate in his cell. Counselors met with inmates in the unit on the first floor where the inmate was found, and also were on hand to talk with officers. State police assigned to the District Attorney’s office took photographs and gathered evidence.


The inmate, Frank C. Moniz, 41, of New Bedford, had been arrested in his Nash Road apartment, Dec. 30, on drug charges. He was taken to the Ash Street Jail and Regional Lockup in New Bedford the next day. On Jan. 3, the day Heroux was inaugurated as the new sheriff, Moniz was transferred to North Dartmouth and placed in cell G8, a white-walled room with a double bunk and a window with a view of the fenced jailhouse perimeter. He was not considered a suicide risk.

What happened in this particular case will be for the medical examiner and the prosecutor’s office to sort out. The death of Moniz — who had been in county custody at Ash Street five times before between 2000 and 2019, each time for one day or less — was a reminder that it’s up to Heroux to understand a larger question: Why are suicides in Bristol County custody higher than any other Massachusetts county?

The cell at the Jail and House of Correction in North Dartmouth where Frank Moniz apparently hanged himself. Credit: Eleonora Bianchi / The New Bedford Light

In hopes of addressing the question, Heroux is turning to Lindsay M. Hayes, one of the country’s foremost authorities on jail and prison suicide who has been studying federal, state and local correctional systems for more than 40 years. His curriculum vitae runs 18 pages, detailing his work on suicide prevention: as federal court monitor, investigator, expert witness, presenter, writer and editor.

Hayes has been retained on a $16,800 contract to look at county facilities in New Bedford and in North Dartmouth, size up suicide prevention efforts, and recommend any changes he thinks Heroux should make. 

“I think we have a blind spot,” Heroux said, soon after Moniz was found. “It’s my job to find out what that blind spot is. I need to bring somebody in to help look at policies and procedures.”

If confirmed as a suicide, Moniz’s death would be the 24th inmate to kill themselves in Bristol County custody since 2006, the 25th if you include another death reported in a 2017 study by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting but not shown in the sheriff’s department records.

Unit FB of the Bristol County House of Correction. Credit: Eleonora Bianchi / The New Bedford Light

As of late last year, the next highest county totals were Suffolk and Essex, where there were 15 inmate suicides in each system since 2006. Each of those counties can accommodate more people in custody than Bristol County.

Heroux’s statement and his decision to bring in someone from outside to look at the system — which he said was planned before Moniz was found in his cell — represent a departure from his predecessor, Thomas M. Hodgson, who served as sheriff for 25 years. 

In the face of inmate suicides, Hodgson tended to say that his staff did everything right. He would point to accreditations received from national correctional organizations, or argue that inmate suicide is high everywhere, or point to the high rate of mental illness and substance abuse among inmates, and drug use in the community at large. 

In 2018, the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office released its own study of seven of 16 suicides that had occurred inside the walls since 2005. The 11-page report concluded that his staff “did everything right in all cases,” according to reporting by WGBH. 

Hayes was scheduled to visit county facilities for three days in early March, and to submit a report with recommendations by the end of June. 

Hayes declined to be interviewed for this story, but the material he’s requested from Heroux’s office, and one report he completed a few years ago for the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office, suggest how he’ll approach the task.

Soon after he agreed to the assignment in Bristol County, he submitted to Heroux a request for eight types of documents. 

He wants to see the current written suicide prevention policies and procedures from both the sheriff’s office and from the agency’s mental health services provider, Correctional Psychiatric Services. He wants to see all the forms the agency uses to identify suicide risks, including paperwork that inmates complete when they’re first locked up, mental health assessments, treatment planning and screening for restrictive housing. 

He’s asked to see materials used to train officers in suicide prevention, including lesson plans and PowerPoint slides. He wants to know the percentage of officers and health staff members who received suicide prevention training last year, as well as the share of those who know cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Hayes has also asked to know all locations used to accommodate inmates considered suicide risks, and to see reports on all suicides in Bristol County custody since 2017. He wants to see a list of all inmates who have been on suicide precautions this year. 

The requests line up with many of the eight aspects of what he considers an effective suicide prevention program: training; risk assessment; communication among staff members and with inmates; details of housing, including use of restraints and inmate isolation; types of supervision for suicidal inmates; intervention, or response to suicide attempts; reporting suicides to the staff and inmate family; and investigation after suicides. 

A correctional guard stands in front of the janitor closet in the Bristol County House of Correction. Credit: Eleonora Bianchi / The New Bedford Light
Entrance of the Bristol County Jail and House of Correction. Credit: Eleonora Bianchi / The New Bedford Light

Hayes’s 50-page report on the Middlesex County system, presented in March 2018, included these eight areas, considering what the department was doing, how well it was doing, and recommending changes.

The Middlesex County Jail and House of Correction in Billerica, about 45 minutes north of Boston, is a bit larger than the Bristol County system. In 2017, the year Hayes studied, the average daily population of pre-trial detainees and inmates serving sentences was just over 1,000. The average daily population in Bristol County custody — at Ash Street, and the Jail and House of Correction and Women’s Center in Dartmouth — is closer to 700. 

In 2017, before Hayes was called in to study Middlesex County, two inmates committed suicide. There was no legal action against the agency or critical investigation as a result, and internal inquiries showed nothing amiss. But Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian said he wanted to take a closer look.

“We looked at what did we miss,” he said. “It seemed everything we’d done was best practice. This is why I decided to bring in Lindsay Hayes.”

Hayes ultimately found that the two deaths in 2017 were not preventable, but his report included six pages of recommendations. 

Koutoujian said the agency has added two hours of annual suicide prevention training for staff members, and added two questions to the list completed by new inmates: has a family member/close friend ever attempted or committed suicide; do you feel there is nothing to look forward to in the immediate future?

He said the agency has added a round of risk assessment after an inmate is taken off suicide watch, and enhanced communication on suicide awareness by placing more posters and literature around the jail. 

Even before Hayes started his work, the jail had adjusted its outgoing phone service by adding a recorded 10- to 15-second message for people receiving a call from an inmate. The message asks the person to contact jail officials if they have particular worries about the inmate, if they fear the person is in heightened distress. 

At least one family did not share their concerns about an inmate, Koutoujian said. That person became one of two suicides that have occurred in the Middlesex County system since Hayes wrapped up his report, one in 2018, one in 2022. 

“You feel frustrated,” Koutoujian said. “The family was not in touch with us.”

So the effort goes on, as Hayes has been back for a follow up in 2020 and will return again this year, “to make sure we’re staying on track.”

Email staff reporter Arthur Hirsch at

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