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Jails & Suicides

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According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 2001-2011, 3217 inmates committed suicide in local jails. The difference between an inmate in jail and an inmate in prison–the inmate in jail is usually waiting for his or her day in court. The inmates in prison were convicted and are serving their sentences.

Many state prisons do not have good or even adequate mental health care for inmates, but compared to local jails, but are better than most jails. According to the National Institute of Corrections in 2010,  most jails do not provide suicide prevention training or do not provide it annually. Smaller jails, holding less than 50 inmates, have a higher suicide rate than large jails.

The news media has focused on Texas jails since the tragic death of Sandra Bland, a black woman. The trooper had stopped Ms. Brown for failing allegedly to signal while changing lanes. An argument escalated with the trooper demanding that she put out her cigarette. She was arrested and thrown into jail. The authorities have claimed that Ms. Bland hanged herself with a trash bag in her cell. Bland’s family and friends have disputed whether Ms. Bland’s death was a suicide or a homicide. This region is known for racial tensions against black Americans.

Even without this important issue about the cause of Bland’s death,, the Waller County Jail violated several policies enacted to prevent suicide. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards cited the jail for not observing inmates in person at the minimum of once an hour. The sheriff’s office has admitted that the guards checked on Ms. Bland only once by intercom. The sheriff’s office could not show documents proving that their jailers had undergone training on handling inmates with mental illnesses or inmates who were prone to suicide. According to the booking documents, Ms. Bland told the authorities that she had tried to commit suicide after she had lost a baby during pregnancy.

The authorities have alleged that Ms. Bland hanged herself with a trash bag in her cell. There is the serious question as to why a trash bag was in Ms. Bland’s cell. In Texas county jail cells, trash can liners are available to inmate’s in their cells–there are no liners or trash cans in Texas state prison cells. State inmates place their trash in trash cans located in common areas.

If Ms. Bland’s death was a suicide, it was not an isolated incident. In 2014, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards reported 71 inmate’s deaths and concluded that 20 of the deaths were suicides. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the national suicide rate for county jails was almost four times the national rate.

For anyone locked up in a jail cell for the first time in their life, the experience can be terrifying and even overwhelming for some. It does not matter if their charge was a minor violation. The inmate has lost  control over his or her life and are cut off from family and friends. They are facing a terrifying unknown. As an alleged civilized society, we need to educate and train our jailers how to interact with inmates with mental illnesses and how to treat inmates with suicidal tendencies.

By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com

 

 

 

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10 Responses to Jails & Suicides

  1. PrisonPath August 17, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

    Very well put. As a suicide instructor at my facility, this is a subject I’m learning more about as I go. However I think inmates are more prone, to commit suicide in a county facility then a state prison.
    By-Miles

  2. PrisonPath August 17, 2015 at 6:22 pm #

    Bonnie–
    Thank you for posting this. Now, can we do something about the prisoners having their medications changed when they go to jail without consulting their psychologist, psychiatrist, or a pharmacist? Arbitrarily changing a persons’ medication that they have been on for some time without stepping it down can throw them into psychosis, and simply changing it completely can do real damage. Some prisoners are punished when their brains short circuit.

  3. PrisonPath August 17, 2015 at 6:22 pm #

    Greg–
    Do what the officer instructs you to do and you never would have got locked up, PERIOD! Look at the root cause of all these problems, it’s not the officers, it’s not the facilities, it’s individuals not obeying the sworn officers instructions and not taking responsibilities for their actions and then the family wants to blame everyone else or not knowing. Just like children today, the parents blaming the teachers to raise and rear their children instead of taking the blame and responsibility for raising their own child. STOP blaming everyone else in society and take blame for being a lousy parent or person.

  4. PrisonPath August 17, 2015 at 6:23 pm #

    Jane–
    Greg, the officer went too far. An officer must be able to deal correctly with people on edge. I am usually with the officers, but not in this case. We must acknowledge that not all officers are well meaning, nor well trained.

  5. PrisonPath August 17, 2015 at 6:23 pm #

    Dawn–
    I work with mentally ill inmates and a lot of them. We are trained to work with this type of inmate and take refresher training every year. Yes I and a correction officer and I think our state is very in tune to this inmate. They get psychiatric care and a psych nurse is on sight 24 /7 psych doctor 5 days a week. I have seen everything they can do to the body from putting foreign objects in their penis to hanging in a cell. I read the comments on these discussions and sometimes I think I am working in a system that is way passed other states.
    Bonnie my biggest issue with you is you only see the bad and never the good. Maybe you need to expand your research. A lot of your information is bias because you were in the system. The system isn’t the same as when you were incarcerated. Now I know you don’t want to read this because you have not went forward, but it is true. So stop, Please stop running your mouth about things you know nothing about.

    • Jackie November 30, 2015 at 8:12 pm #

      Dawn..You are virtually illiterate..How can you help anyone? but thanks anyway

  6. PrisonPath August 17, 2015 at 6:24 pm #

    Bonnie–
    Dawn, until I retired in 2011 for health reasons, I participated in many community reentry groups which included DOC officials, state agencies, religious organizations, local National Alliance on Mental Illness staff, prisoner advocacy group representatives, nonprofit organizations, religious and recovery groups and employers. I mentored peer-led reentry and recovery groups. I have been a part of the National Institute of Justice seminars and received a scholarship to their 2010 conference. I have been a part of DOC conferences and seminars, and presented papers at both the Iowa Sociological Association and the Midwest Sociological Society’s Conferences.

    I have asked questions at all of them and had my views respected. On July 29, 2008, Governor Ray gave me letter of recommendation, “Bonnie gives proof that it was a wise decision to grant her a pardon. She was released thirty nine years ago last month and deserves credit for the positive attitude, effort and determination that she has demonstrated. Any assistance that can be given to her efforts in education, research and writing, which will manifest in the improvement of the Iowa criminal justice system and society in general, will be very much appreciated.”

    On August 5, 2009, Sally Kreamer, Director, Fifth Judicial District, Iowa Department of Correctional Services, gave me a letter of recommendation, “Through our email correspondence and face-to-face conversation, I got to know Ms. Kern as a mission driven individual who uses her graduate education and experience to promote systemic improvement for the lives of our clients, especially the women. She does not hesitate to interject the client’s perspective to improve how programs are presented. She has repeatedly suggested that involving the clients in planning process will make the clients more willing to invest themselves in the program rather than something else the system is doing to them.”

    Iowa now has a new women’s prison with pods for the women who need mental health and chemical dependency treatment.

    Some of us work to improve people’s lives while others sit around talking about how it cannot be done.

  7. PrisonPath August 17, 2015 at 6:24 pm #

    Dawn–
    Bonnie the funny thing is you sit there and right about you and how bad we are to inmates but you didn’t have one word to say anything about what I posted. You just talking about you. Because no matter what your pedigree is not important. You made comments that “Now, can we do something about the prisoners having their medications changed when they go to jail without consulting their psychologist, psychiatrist, or a pharmacist? Arbitrarily changing a persons’ medication that they have been on for some time without stepping it down can throw them into psychosis, and simply changing it completely can do real damage. Some prisoners are punished when their brains short circuit”. This is not an accurate description of all states, it is a description of a state. When you start to do some of your own research and look at all the states and find the state that actually does work to help the mentally ill inmates, maybe that would be more productive, and more creditable because you are seeing first hand for yourself and not relying on someone else work. Because that research is very bias and is about one state.

  8. PrisonPath August 17, 2015 at 6:25 pm #

    Jane–
    “Some prisoners are punished when their brains short circuit” – yes, it happens — one CO in Texas said”there is a fine line between mental illness and bad behavior” – well, the inmate got out of chow line when he was having a brain seizure and was disoriented …

  9. PrisonPath August 17, 2015 at 6:25 pm #

    Bonnie–
    Okay Dawn. I am wrong.

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