updated 3/31/2007 8:38:13 PM ET 2007-04-01T00:38:13

An inmate undergoing a psychiatric evaluation hanged himself in a shower room, becoming the 10th inmate to commit suicide in the state prison system in the past 15 months, the Department of Correction said Saturday.

Jarred Aranda, 27, wrapped a shoelace around his neck at and tied it to the handle of the shower room door at Bridgewater State Hospital Friday night, DOC spokeswoman Diane Wiffin said.

It was the third suicide in Massachusetts state prisons this year, following seven in 2006. There was only one suicide in 2004 and four in 2005.

“You can’t eliminate risk, you can only minimize it,” Wiffin said Saturday.

A federal lawsuit filed this month claims inmates with mental illnesses get inadequate oversight, contributing to an increase in suicide attempts. It claims that one-quarter of the 11,000 inmates in the state prison system are mentally ill, and accuses the DOC of keeping hundreds of inmates in isolation for too long.

“We’re long past the crisis stage,” said Leslie Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, an inmate advocacy group that supports the lawsuit. “It’s especially disheartening that this occurred in state hospital, which is designed to protect and heal the mentally ill.”

The state’s inmate suicide rate was about 27 per 100,000 inmates during the 10-year-period that ended in 2006, according to a state-commissioned report issued in February. That was nearly twice the rate nationally in 2002, the most recent figure available.

The report called for removing items inmates could use to harm themselves from cells, recommended hiring more staff to monitor troubled inmates and stressed a need for more and better training.

Aranda had begun serving a one-year sentence for larceny and assault in January. He was transferred from the Bristol County House of Correction to Bridgewater on March 13 for a 30-day psychiatric evaluation, Wiffin said.

He was one of 39 inmates assigned to a unit that was monitored by four correction officers, one above normal staffing, Wiffin said.

That unit, which has single rooms and multi-bed dorm-style rooms, has a shower room with observational windows for officers, Wiffin said. Only one inmate is allowed in the shower room at one time, she said.

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