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