The U.S. Department of Justice recently stated that suicide is the leading cause of death in jails, and that this rate continues to increase. Although jail suicides are preventable when jails implement appropriate suicide prevention policies; too often, jails fail to do this which results in unnecessary death. The National Commission on Correctional Health Care (“NCCH”) has established suicide prevention standards that all jails would do well to follow to reduce the occurrence of jail suicide. The purpose of the NCCH is to improve the quality of health care in jails, prisons, and juvenile confinement facilities. The primary way the NCCH accomplishes this is by creating standards for corrections officers and health care professionals to follow to appropriately meet the mental health needs of inmates.
According to the NCCH, although jail suicides are unpredictable, jails that possess and follow a suicide prevention program can help reduce suicide risks. (NCCH Standards For Health Services in Jails, 2018, pg. 39). Inmates may become suicidal at any point during their custody, but are at a significantly higher risk of suicide during the following periods:
- Upon admission (e.g., 2 to 14 days following incarceration).
- Following new legal problems (e.g., within 48 hours of a court appearance, new charges, additional sentences, institutional proceedings, denial of parole).
- After admittances to segregation or single-cell housing.
- After the receipt of bad news regarding self or family (e.g., serious illness, the loss of a loved one).
For these inmates especially, it is critical for jails to have a suicide prevention plan in place that allows correctional staff to respond to an inmate’s mental health needs quickly and appropriately. An effective jail suicide prevention plan, according to NCCH standards, should include the following policies:
- Facility staff must be able to identify suicidal inmates and immediately initiate precautions.
- Suicidal inmates must be evaluated promptly by the jails’ designated health professional, who directs the intervention and ensures follow-up as needed.
- Acutely suicidal inmates – inmates that are engaged in active self-harm behavior and who threaten suicide- should be monitored by facility staff via constant observation.
- Nonacutely suicidal inmates – inmates who express a wish to die without a specific threat or plan- should be monitored by facility staff at unpredictable intervals with no more than 15 minutes between checks.
(NCCH Standards for Health Services in Jails, 2018, pg. 39)
These standards should be written in the jail’s polices and procedure manual. If the standards are not written and or are not followed by correctional staff and a jail suicide results, the family of the suicide victim should contact an attorney to explore the possibility of legal action.
In my work as a jail suicide attorney, I always refer to the NCCH standards and compare those standards with the jails conduct to determine whether legally I can help a family whose loved one has committed jail suicide. If you have a loved one who has died as the result of a jail suicide, and you suspect that the standards referenced above were not followed by the jail, please contact our law office so that we can discuss your case with you. Our law office handles these cases on a contingency fee basis which means we get paid nothing unless we win your case for you.