Nationally recognized suicide-prevention expert Lindsey Hayes delivered his report to Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz back on April 8. It was provided to the Current this week under an Open Records request.Bexar County's mental health diversion program is considered a bright spot in San Antonio's justice system, but not everybody in the jail is screened in a timely fashion for mental illness, according to a recent notice of noncompliance from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, and clearly problems remain regarding suicidal inmates who aren't diverted from the jail.
Hayes opens his report by crediting the jail staff for taking the proactive approach of contacting him after a rash of suicides began to build at the facility in 2009. Ultimately, six inmates in the jail system, one of whom had been outsourced to Crystal City because of intense overcrowding, hung themselves in a 10-month period last year, about three times the national average for county lock-ups.
Hayes then documents a long list of failures on the part of the administration (and University Health Systems, which provides mental-health professionals and medical staff at the jail) in recognizing at-risk inmates and preventing needless deaths.
For starters, Hayes calls the Suicide Prevention Unit “a misnomer.”
“The 10-cell unit only occasionally houses inmates on suicide precautions (e.g., only two inmates were on suicide precautions during the time of this writer’s visit) and, other than the posting of two detention officers and a medical staff, there were not any appreciably enhanced services,” Hayes writes. “It would appear that the jail system has an unexplained tolerance for potentially suicidal behavior that has resulted in under-utilization of the Suicide Prevention Unit, as well as other units, for the housing of suicidal inmates.”
And, yet, the most disturbing findings have to do with the jail failing to follow its own written procedures on prevention. For instance, jailers are not supposed to take away suicidal inmates’ personal items unless that inmate is aggressive toward others or themselves. Even then, jailers are supposed to get approval from the shift commander before removing an inmate from general population, after which continuous observation is called for.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Expert: Bexar jail exhibits 'unexplained tolerance for potentially suicidal behavior'
According to Greg Harman at the San Antonio Current's QueBlog ("Heroin bust at jail a distraction from blistering suicide review," June 11), the recent arrest of a Bexar County jail guard for smuggling drugs into the jail is overshadowing more serious, chronic concerns about the jail's treatment of suicidal inmates: