Justice

Here's How Many People Commit Suicide in Jail Each Year

The stress and shock of confinement can affect people in extreme and often unpredictable ways, especially for those who are booked into jail for the first time. In 2011, the suicide rate in local jails was approximately 43 per 100,000 inmates, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. It is one of the leading causes of death in the country's jail system—second only to heart disease—and though agencies such as the Department of Justice have looked into the issue, the problem has not gone away.

In the past month, reports of alleged jail suicides have appeared in headlines more frequently than usual. Sandra Bland and Kindra Chapman have been the most widely talked about, but there have been at least two additional jail suicides this month: Samantha Dell and Tevin Garcia, who were also found hanged in their cells at jails in Florida and Maryland, respectively.

There was something about Sandra Bland's death that didn't add up.

The 28-year-old woman had just moved south for a job in the student outreach department of her alma mater, Texas Prairie View A&M University. She did not appear suicidal to family or friends, though she was reasonably upset about the July 10 arrest.

Here is the dashcam video footage of Sandra Bland's arrest.

New police dashcam video reveals how the Sandra Bland arrest escalated. The full video can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/1MHb4IZ

Posted by ATTN: on Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Three days after her arrest, which was captured on dash cam video, Sandra Bland was found hanged in a Waller County jail cell. The autopsy report cited "self-inflicted asphyxiation" as the cause of death, but supporters and advocacy groups have called that report into question. The case is currently under joint investigation by the Texas Rangers and FBI.

To be sure, many details about Bland's death remain unclear. But this case has left a strong impression on the American conscience in several ways, including its effect on public awareness of jail suicides. The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000, a measure designed to improve transparency in jail systems, has also helped, allowing analysts to collect more comprehensive information on the statistical reality of jail suicides.

Part of that problem is associated with a lack of suicide prevention training for law enforcement officials. "[J]ails screen new arrivals for depression; it's often a questionnaire, the kind that was administered to Sandra Bland twice in Waller County," NPR reported. "But even when mental illness is obvious, jailers sometimes seem dangerously indifferent."

On her questionnaire, Bland reportedly informed the jailers of a previous suicide attempt, which some say should have been a red flag and reason to take preventative measures. However, many jails in America do not have the resources or training available to accommodate those with a history of mental illness.

A 2010 study from the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives identified demographic and policy trends in U.S. jails between 1985 and 2006. The analysts found that the majority of inmates who committed suicide behind bars were white (67 percent), male (93 percent), and middle-aged. Just under half of these inmates "had a history of substance abuse," and 38 percent had been previously treated for mental illness.

"Although the knowledge base continues to increase, which seemingly corresponds to a dramatic reduction in the rate of inmate suicide in detention facilities, much work lies ahead," one Justice Department study noted. "Because inmates can be at risk at any point during confinement, the greatest challenge for those who work in the correctional system is to view the issue as one that requires a continuum of comprehensive suicide-prevention services... continued assessment, and safe management of inmates at risk for self-harm."

Demographically, these cases are unusual. Young, racially diverse, and mostly female. That's not to say that anything has changed as far as jail suicide trends are concerned; however, it does perhaps suggest that data on the subject is incomplete. Extensive coverage of Sandra Bland's death appears to have raised attention to several broader issues connected to the country's criminal justice system—from the bail-bonding industry to jail suicides—and the national debate that has emerged from Bland's case has been both relevant and progressive.

Here's the voicemail that Sandra Bland left from jail.

Here's the voicemail that Sandra Bland left from jail. She was trying to reach her friend. Read more about her $5,000 bail here: http://bit.ly/1Mpng46

Posted by ATTN: on Wednesday, July 22, 2015