In 2007, the New York State prison system settled a lawsuit to bring improved mental health services to inmates and reduce the number of suicides within the system. Recent prison and jail suicides suggest that problems remain in dealing with these issues.
In mid-October 2010, the Poughkeepsie Journal reported on a suicide at a Westchester County prison when, at that time, it was one of 17 in state lock ups, which they noted was an alarming 42 percent above the annual average for the past decade and a 70 percent increase over all of 2009.
And the problem continues in 2011. The state Department of Correctional Services will investigate a suicide that occurred on February 11 — the second suicide in five months at the Dutchess County Jail — but a report likely won’t be completed for more than a year.
Newsday reported in January of 2011 on the suicide of a Nassau County jail inmate, a year to the day after the first of four similar incidents in the past 12 months, which triggered the alarm of state lawmakers and inmate advocates. Two inmates, including a robbery suspect and a murder convict, had killed themselves in the Nassau County jail in October and another did so in January of 2010.
Acting Nassau County Sheriff Michael Sposato wrote to the New York State Commission of Correction requesting a quicker probe into the two suicides.
New York State Commission of Correction Memorandum
New York State Commission of Correction issued a Chairman’s memorandum on February 14, 2011, noting that suicides in New York state prisons rose in 2010 to 32, the highest rate since the 1980s.
The memorandum suggests that facilities review their policies for handling inmates who may be at risk of suicide. It suggests the need for family, friends and fellow inmates to report knowledge of inmates threatening self-harm or suicide.
The commission found that suicidal behavior might be triggered by holidays and birthdays in jail, first time in custody, fear of being sentenced to state prison, family problems, gang activity, and drug/alcohol withdrawal.
The commission also reiterated the importance of maintaining a Local Forensic Suicide Prevention-Crisis Service Model program.
A Duty That May Not Be Waived
In a strongly worded section, the commission stressed the importance of determining the need for additional supervision. The requirement applies to the facility administrator and physician, and that there is an affirmative duty (bold theirs) to determine the state of the inmates health and order additional supervision when necessary. Additionally, the duty may not be waived.
If you have family members in a jail or prison in New York, and you are concerned with their mental health and the level of their care, you should speak with officials at the facility and with a criminal defense attorney.