By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Three suicides and one attempted suicide in the past week in the Philadelphia prison system are prompting a probe by a local civil rights attorney.

Attorney David Rudovsky, who has sued the city in the past on the issue of prison overcrowding, is concerned that the suicides of three inmates — and an attempt by a fourth — may be related to an upswing in the prison population.

“That’s a very, very high number in any institution in one week, to have that number of suicides and suicide attempts,” Rudovsky says. “And we want to determine whether its related to the overcrowding at the institutions.”

So Rudovsky is requesting reports from the city on all four incidents.  He is also wondering if the suicides may be related to deficient psychological care and poor hygienic conditions at the prisons.

“This kind of cluster (of suicides) raises all kinds of questions about what the prison officials are doing to provide medical and psychiatric care to inmates, to prevent this from happening,” he says. “So we are actively requesting the reports on these cases.  And then we will decide whether we will go to court to seek changes in the system.”

Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla released a statement saying the inmate suicides are under investigation by his office and the Police Homicide Division.  The deaths, he said, do not appear to be related.  He says all Corrections Officers and support staff will be “extra vigilant” in their dealings with inmates.  And the Commissioner says a previously-scheduled review by an independent monitor of behavioral health at the prisons — set to begin on Monday — will focus on the suicides and suicide attempt.

Rudovsky says even before the suicides last week, his firm was considering returning to federal court because of overcrowding.  He says the prison population has risen in the past year and a half from about 7,800 to the current 8,700.

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