A new prison audit has revealed the reasons why more women women inmates commit suicides in California prisons, and what the state can do to halt the worrisome trend.
Senator Connie Leyva requested that the prison audit be done when it became apparent that more female inmates committed suicide at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona than at any other prison in California.
Prison Suicide Stats for CIW
California prisons are a part of the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitations, also known as CDCR. To show how bad the situation has become, the prison audit revealed the following about CIW:
- 6-out-of-7 prison suicides that occurred among women inmates in CDCR since 2013 occurred at the California Institution for Women facility in Corona, also known as CIW
- Between 2013 and 2016, women inmate suicides made up 11% of total prison suicides in CDCR
- Rate of suicide rose from 18 in 2012 to 49 in 2016 at both CIW in Corona and Central Valley Women’s Facility in Chowchilla
Why Women Inmates Commit Suicides in California Prisons… Specifically CIW
The new prison audit did not only investigate the reasons for the spike in female suicide rates, but also factors that contributed directly or remotely to the unfortunate development. Here are some of the factors found culpable for the high suicide rate at CIW and other state prisons:
- Lack of strict adherence to suicide prevention plans among correctional staff
- Acute shortage of mental health specialists in state prisons
- Inadequate training programs for correctional officers to prevent suicide or help inmates who attempted suicide
- Inadequate preparation by the state when about 400 female inmates were moved from the Central Valley Women’s Facility in Chowchilla to CIW in 2012; the new intakes from Chowchilla introduced drugs and a dangerous prison culture to those at CIW, raising suicide rates.
What Can the California Do To Change the Situation?
Having found out that several factors are responsible for the prevalent rate of suicide among female inmates in California, the audit identified some things the state government can do through the corrections department to remedy the situation.
Sen. Leyva noted that the corrections department must re-orientate prison inmates and make them understand that suicide is never an option under any circumstances. This will help them get a better handle on why women inmates commit suicides in California prisons.
The minds of inmates must be reconfigured to know that suicide or self-harm is out of the question in the face of whatever is prevalent in prison systems. And to this extent, properly trained mental healthcare professionals must be hired to provide mental support and cognitive health to inmates.
Since the prison audit made it obvious that the corrections department failed to put measures on ground when an influx of female inmates were moved from Chowchilla to CIW, the department would do better to ensure that all rehabilitative, correctional and educative support systems are on ground before inmates are moved from one prison to another.
It is now obvious that inmates from one prison could negatively affect inmates in another prison when they are merged together – by introducing suicidal tendencies and negative behaviors.
“Although corrections acknowledged at the time that the conversion of (the Chowchilla prison) to a men’s prison might significantly affect (the state’s remaining women’s prisons), it did little to prepare those prisons,” the audit had revealed.
Mental Health Issues Lead to Prison Suicide Epidemics
The audit provided that lack of mental health staff in prisons leads to poor or non-existent mental care to inmates. To this extent, inmates may not have proper access to mental health drugs and therapies, causing them to act out and injure themselves.
The state therefore ought to provide more mental health experts and equip them with the necessary drugs and training required to help inmates. It is also necessary that prison staff be mandated to fill out risk evaluations forms when inmates attempt suicides for whatever reasons.
Prison staff will be doing more harm if they fabricate evaluation forms without really carrying out inspections of inmates to access their mental health and the amount of risks to constitute in prisons. Furthermore, prison staff must be trained on how to respond instantly to suicide attempts so that the inmate will not die eventually or repeat the act again.
Whether using cans to slice their wrists or hanging themselves with ropes from their windows, prison staff must be able to provide first aid that will save the lives of inmates when they attempt suicide.
Sen. Leyva promised that legislation will be introduced soon to implement the recommendations outlined in the state prison audit. This may help us better understand why women inmates commit suicides in California prisons.