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Another Ohio prisoner found dead, ninth suicide this year

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An Ohio prison inmate was found dead this week with a vacuum cleaner cord wrapped around his neck, the ninth state prisoner to commit suicide this year, authorities said on Friday.

Kimball Kenaga, 47, died Wednesday in the Ross Correctional Institution in southwest Ohio where he had served seven years of his sentence of 30 years to life for attempted murder, arson and burglary, prison spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said.

A guard found Kenaga sitting in a closet with a vacuum cleaner cord around his neck. The cord had been attached to a sprinkler head in the ceiling, a report from the state Highway Patrol said. A suicide note was found in his pocket.

Ohio prisons have been under increased scrutiny following the recent deaths of two high-profile inmates - the September hanging death of Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro and the August suicide of death row inmate Billy Slagle.

Kenaga's suicide on Wednesday coincided with the release of an Ohio Highway Patrol report on the death of Slagle, 44, who hanged himself with a belt and a shoestring three days before his scheduled execution.

According to a three-page suicide note left by Slagle, he believed he was "taking destiny into his own hands" and complained that he had to "forfeit his life but Ariel Castro avoids the death penalty." Slagle called the death penalty inconsistent and apologized to his loved ones.

Castro, convicted of abducting three women, abusing and imprisoning them for up to 11 years, was spared the death penalty in return for pleading guilty to hundreds of charges including beating one of the women until she miscarried.

Internal prison reports showed that officers assigned to guard the inmates in both the Castro and Slagle deaths skipped rounds and falsified logs. The officers in both cases are on administrative leave.

Between 2001 and 2011 Ohio prison's ranked among the top 10 states in the nation with 63 suicides over 10 years, according to the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, a prison watchdog organization.

The average of inmate suicides is 5.5 percent nationally, and Ohio is a little below average at 5.1 percent. California, Texas and New York have the highest averages but also have large prison inmate populations.

Ohio had four suicides last year and a high of 11 in 2007, according to the watchdog group.

The union for Ohio prison guards has said more attention should be paid to the problem of overcrowding and the need for mental health services. The 28 Ohio prisons designed for 38,450 inmates now house 50,055, meaning the system is at more than 130 percent capacity, according to the prison website.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Greg McCune, Mary Wisniewski and Lisa Shumaker)

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