Suicide is reported to be the leading cause of deaths in U.S. jails, peaking at 50 deaths per 100,000 inmates in 2014 (data is unavailable for the years after 2014 but there were more than 300 suicides in local jails reported in nine U.S. states from 2015 to 2017). Federal statistics for 2014 reported 372 suicides among approximately 3,000 jails surveyed. The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice reported that 38 of the 71 people who died in Utah jails from 2013 to 2017 were as a result of suicide.
The U.S. jail suicide rate is three and a half times that of the general population, and two and a half times the suicide rate in state prisons.
A joint investigation by The Associated Press and the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service found “scores of jails have been sued or investigated in recent years for allegedly refusing inmates medication, ignoring their cries for help, failing to monitor them despite warnings they might harm themselves, or imposing such harsh conditions that the sick got sicker.” The investigators reviewed more than 400 lawsuits filed in the last five years alleging mistreatment of inmates. Most of those inmates were mentally ill. Of the lawsuits reviewed, 135 involved inmate deaths and 30 involved suicide attempts. Eighty percent of those inmates were awaiting trial.
The investigators reported:
– About a third of jail inmates who attempted suicide or committed suicide did so after staff allegedly failed to provide prescription medicines used to manage mental illness.
– The first week of detention is critical: more than half of suicides or suicide attempts referenced in the lawsuits reviewed occurred during the first seven days of confinement and many of those were within the first 48 hours after intake. Early days of confinement are associated with the sudden stress of confinement when inmates worry about losing jobs, family reaction, and an uncertain future.
– Inmates frequently used clothing, bedsheets, or shower curtains to hang themselves. The review also revealed instances of inmates being given razors, despite clear warnings they might harm themselves.
– Many inmates were not checked on regularly according to jail policies — usually every 15 to 30 minutes — because of staffing shortages or inadequate training of staff.
The head of the National Sheriffs’ Association stated, “The failure here isn’t just what a deputy or an officer in a jail does or doesn’t do. The failure is that these people are being put in a criminal environment for mental illness.” Experts also cite the national opioid crisis that has led to jails becoming overwhelmed with inmates addicted to opioids or methamphetamine, leading to untreated withdrawal symptoms and depression.
If you or a loved one may have a claim involving the suicide of a jail or prison inmate in the United States, you should promptly find an inmate medical malpractice lawyer in your U.S. state who may investigate your jail suicide claim for you and represent you in an inmate medical malpractice lawsuit or deliberate indifference lawsuit, if appropriate.
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