D.C. jail unequipped to protect suicidal inmates, has suicide rate three times national average

Prison CellEarlier this November, Corrections Director Thomas Faust released a report on how the District treats its suicidal inmates. The report finds the practices of the city’s Central Detention Facility to be inadequate for preventing suicides and concludes that some practices only deepen suicidal inmates’ problems. The Facility has had four suicides in the past 12 months, which is three times the national average.

The report, conducted by expert Lindsay Hayes this past August, was released only this month because the District’s Department of Corrections wanted to plan solutions to the problem before making it public knowledge. Faust plans to increase corrections officers’ training and spend $600,000 to remove objects that could be used in suicides, like towel bars and clothing hooks, from cells, according to the Post.

Many critics believe that these changes are inadequate, however, and that the Central Detention Facility was lucky not to have more suicides. In just the past two years, there were 165 suicide attempts at the jail. In many of these cases, the suicidal prisoner was not given the help he needed.

In his report, Hayes gives as an example an account of a prisoner who, after almost dying from hanging himself, was kept in an isolation area and checked only once every hour, as opposed to being put on suicide watch.

Hayes noted that oversight like this was common. “[A jail record keeper] observed that there were more than nine inmates on observation status each day during this on-site assessment that resulted in several inmates being housed in non-suicide resistant cells on the mental health unit,” Hayes wrote, according to the Post.

Also, Faust’s plan to train correctional officers to deal with suicidal prisoners properly is long overdue. “Correctional officers that are assigned to the mental health unit … do not receive any specialized mental health and/or suicide prevention training,” Hayes wrote in his report. In fact, the correctional officers’ former instructor thought of most suicide attempts as prisoners acting-out and causing trouble.

While a major revamping of D.C.’s prison’s protocol is on the way, it has years of inadequate and inattentive care to make up for.

Photo: Still Burning via Flickr

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