Two weeks ago, The Guardian published a news report related to tackling prison suicides. It’s author, Mary O’Hara suggests that the problem is related to an overcrowded, underfunded penal system. This makes it impossible to deal with mental health issues, causing the prison suicide rate to soar in the United States.
The Suicide of Alabama Prisoner Jamie Wallace
Sometimes hope hits the stone wall when the solution to dire needs is not forthcoming after several attempts. Such is the case of Jamie Wallace who was discovered alone and unsupervised. He’d committed suicide two days after being taken off suicide watch.
About a month before, Jamie had testified in Federal court over the deplorable state of the mental health care in Alabama prisons. His suicide was a rude shock and disconcerting, considering the poor state of US prisons.
What he clamored for was a solution to a problem that had been overlooked over the years. He, like many other mentally vulnerable prisoners, was on the verge of depression. Wallace had entertained suicidal thoughts.
The Alabama prisoner gave evidence to support a 3-phase lawsuit. He spoke publicly about the failure of the prison system to cater adequately to the mental health problems faced by the inmates. Unfortunately, he committed suicide before any significant change could happen.
Wallace became one of the many rising prison suicide cases and self-inflicted pain in both US and UK correctional facilities. Immediate action needs to be taken towards tackling prison suicides.
Federal Ruling Could Affect Prison Suicides
The judge’s ruling, for the lawsuit where Wallace presented his evidence, had been about the pitiful situation of the mental health care at Alabama state prisons. This jeopardizes the lives and health of the prisoners.
His ruling condemned:
- The careless, lazy attitude of authorities to the situation
- The resulting rise in suicide rates, staff shortage, ridiculous overcrowding
- The inability of the system to provide adequate treatment to mentally ill inmates
According to the judge, mental health provisions were seriously lacking. He ordered the State of Alabama to take appropriate actions to handle the situation appropriately.
Over the last two years, Alabama prisons have witnessed a soar in the number of inmate suicides. Officials and experts suggest this is because of infamous overcrowding issues within the Alabama Department of Corrections.
U.S. Statistics on Prison Suicides
As if this is not bad enough, the Alabama state prison systems is not the only one with issues. State prisons across the US have witnessed a rise in suicide rates between 2013 and 2014:
- There was a 30% increase in inmate suicides and in 2014
- About 7% of all state prisoner deaths were suicides
- These were the highest number of prisoner suicides since 2001
US prisons are widely known for strict policies on incarceration and corrections. However, it is sad that inmates have to face the mental or psychological trauma due to inadequate facilities.
Tackling prison suicides requires implementing a plan that brings value to the lives of mentally ill inmates.
Reasons for Increase in Inmate Suicides
Research was conducted by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Center for Mental Health. Their reports show that worrisome situations generally encourage suicidal thought amidst inmates. Some of these situations include:
- The constant use of isolation cells
- Deplorable prison conditions
- Understaffing within the prisons and the prison system itself
In another analysis, a trend was discovered: The increase in the number of prison suicides is directly proportional to the radical reduction in prison budgets and staff, and increasing population of the inmates.
Additionally, it was pointed out that locking up prisoners in their cells for up to 23 hours has detrimental effects on the inmates. Budget cuts have also caused an increase in violence and reduced safety for prisoners.
It is evident that the current resources are not enough for the efficient running of the prisons. The report showed that the stricter the disciplinary system became, the higher the suicide rates increased.
Tackling Prison Suicides in the U.S.
Experts caution officials about the increasing decline of safely in youth jails. This situation jeopardizes the safety of younger prisoners. It is no longer news that prisons are unable to adequately handle the rise in suicides and self-inflicted pain.
What is worse is that the government is unaware of the number of inmates with poor mental health nor the amount being spent on their care. It is evident, that lack of the information on these challenges makes it hard to deploy resources towards solving the problem. This makes it almost impossible to implement proper solutions.
The nonchalant attitude of the government to the situation has come under heavy criticism. More people, especially prison loved ones, are speaking up towards ensuring more funding for state prisons.
Wallace and several other inmates suffering from mental health problems who have committed suicide could have been saved… if only there had been more resources. The tragic situation will continue to rise unless the overcrowding and underfunding issues are put in check.
Do Your Part to Tackle Inmate Suicides
Experts insists that prison visits from family and friends are one of the best ways of tackling prison suicides. Inmates need contact with their prison loved ones to stay afloat mentally, emotionally and psychologically.
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Emmanuel O considers himself more of an artist than a writer. He loves reading and writing poetry and fiction, but on other days, he makes music. Emmanuel has written on diverse topics for many websites and is the author of three books his own. Currently, he’s a news reporter for loved ones of incarcerated people for Prison Rideshare Network.