Arizona – Stress and mental health related to first responders and combat veterans is a topic we cover frequently here on Law Enforcement Today, but one we don’t cover often are the stresses related to walking in and out of a prison every day.
Jonathan Hendrickson was working on his third year as an officer with the Arizona Department of Corrections. He had served as a corrections officer in Indiana for 12 years prior to accepting a role with the ADOC. Additionally, his time in Indiana allowed him to reach the rank of lieutenant.
Unfortunately, those years had taken a serious toll on Hendrickson, according to his wife, Shannon, who also works in corrections.
A report from AZ Family told the Hendrickson’s tragic tale.
Shannon commented on the mindset associated with working in corrections.
“You have to think about the toll it takes when your number one priority every day is just to come home safe,” she said.
On October 10 of this year, Shannon received her final text from her husband — a message instructing her to not open the garage door.
Jonathan took his own life that day, joining a long list of corrections officers across the country who have also died by suicide.
Denise Baegley, who is the manager of clinical initiatives and training at ASU’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy, stated his thoughts on the suicidality of corrections officers.
“I think it’s the exposure to the trauma that is just in the job.”
Baegley noted that law enforcement officers and first responders are typically at a higher risk of suffering from mental health problems and suicidal tendencies than those in the general population, and that the agencies that hire these people need to do a better job of putting an emphasis on mental health.
“We used to call cancer the ‘C Word.” And now we say, ‘cancer,’ and we stand up against it. We need to do that for mental health as well,” Beagly said.
The manner in which soldiers, officers and firefighters are honored in death varies by department. The Phoenix Police and Fire departments offer an honor guard if the family requests one if a current or former employee dies by suicide.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety says the director looks at suicides on a case-by-case basis, as does the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
But both agencies have provided honor guards for suicide deaths. Despite all the agencies paying homage to those suffering from mental health posthumously, the Arizona Department of Corrections refuses to do so.
This isn’t exactly common knowledge, as when Shannon had reached out to the Arizona Departments of Corrections regarding honoring her late husband, she was shocked to hear the response.
“I requested an honor guard for his memorial service immediately,” to which she was informed that the department wouldn’t provide one because the cause of death was suicide.
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The reasoning behind that, according to Shannon, was that it is “viewed as dishonorable within the department.”
According to the ADC Departmental Order Manual, “If a death was the result of suicide, no ceremonial honors will be rendered.”
Bill Lamoreaux, who is the ADC media relations administrator, responded with the following statement regarding the officers passing and denied ceremony.
“Our employees are the most important resource we have, and their safety and well-being is always a top priority. The sudden, tragic loss of a coworker is a terrible and traumatic event that the department and our employees mourn. Support is available in this case and in many other critical circumstances.”
According to Lamoreaux, the department does not track employee suicides. When there was an inquiry to speak with the director, Lamoreaux said that he was not available for an interview because he has been visiting the state prison complexes. Still, Shannon’s coworkers, as well as those of her late husband, attended Jonathan’s funeral wearing their uniforms.
There was no official honor guard.
Jonathan Hendrickson took his own life but wasn't given an honor guard at his funeral. Arizona Department of Corrections ADC #suicide #Mentalhealth #honorguard correctional Officers #HonortheFallen National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 https://t.co/wl2COKRW75
— Suzie S (@suziesuchi) November 20, 2019
The acting director of the department, Joe Profiri, emailed Shannon.
“The men and women of the Arizona Department of Corrections will continuously honor Officer Hendrickson and all our comrades laid to rest by wearing the badge every day, showing up in correctional facilities across the great state of Arizona in contribution of making Arizona communities safe,” the email read.
Shannon simply wants to see the stigma associated with correctional officer suicide to be cast away, and allow an honor guard to pay homage to those who have fallen.
“Any time we can remove some of the stigma for suicide or mental illness, we should. We’re in a day and age now where this is part of the conversation. We have to keep talking about it.”
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