In the last four years, the suicide rate in North Carolina’s jails has exceeded the national average, showing the need for better screening and supervision of inmates, Disability Rights NC said in a report released Wednesday.
U.S. Justice Department statistics show roughly one in three deaths in jails are suicides. But North Carolina’s rate is nearly one out of every two deaths. Of 111 deaths over the past four years, 51 were suicides for a rate of 46 percent, the report said.
“North Carolina does not require jails to use any of the recognized best practices for helping an inmate who has a mental health condition,” said Susan Pollitt, senior attorney with Disability Rights NC, in a news release. “We fail to require mental health screenings. We fail to keep them in safe cells. We fail to train jail staff in suicide prevention. And so, we end up with tragedies that could have been prevented.”
Disability Rights NC is a nonprofit that advocates for people with mental illness.
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This week, The News & Observer reported in its “Jailed to Death” series that in the past five years, 51 inmates in North Carolina jails had died in cases where state investigators found poor supervision. The series has also exposed a loophole in reporting inmate deaths, and a lack of investigation into supervision issues until 2011, when an inmate overdosed in the Wake County jail.
The N&O’s reporting also shows the suicide rate in North Carolina’s jails is above the national average.
“Because of the lack of community mental-health services in North Carolina, people facing a mental health crisis often end up in our jails,” Vicki Smith, executive director of the Disability Rights NC, said in the news release. “Ensuring the safety of people in each county’s jail is the responsibility of the sheriff, front line staff, and county commissioners. Jails must make the necessary investments into training, personnel, and equipment to provide inmates with the help they need.”
Disability Rights NC said jails need to have a “robust and effective” suicide prevention program. It should include a written suicide prevention policy, annual training, initial and follow-up screenings of inmates, suicide-resistant cells and safe levels of supervision and management.