The Charlotte Observer recently reported on an increase in suicides in the state’s prisons, and state officials responded with a plan, set to go into effect Sept. 1, to train prison staff in recognizing when inmates are at risk. Prisons will have mock drills on how to deal with a suicide in progress, and they will have mental health professionals more closely monitor inmates who have been on suicide watch to make sure they are clear of danger.
These are good steps, but the fifth inmate suicide of the year – this one at Maury Correctional Institution in Greene County in Eastern North Carolina – has focused more attention on the issue.
Clearly, the state’s prison system needs to do more and in fact has been warned before by a consultant about the need for a suicide prevention policy. Consulting positions for psychologists and psychiatrists need to be filled, The Observer reported, and inmates complain they can’t get help in a timely fashion.
Prisoners’ rights and well-being typically aren’t a top priority of lawmakers, but the implementation of the new policy needs to be accelerated, and those consulting positions need to be filled. Absent action, the problem will surely worsen, and that is something the state cannot tolerate.
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This is not about some warm and fuzzy benefit for inmates. It is about a mental health necessity and, for some inmates, one that is a life and death issue.