Shaylene "Light Blue" Graves added to the state's high suicide rates when she took her own life in a CIW prison in 2016.
Prison Suicides & Deaths Prison System Issues Women's Prisons

Staff Neglect Leads to State’s High Suicide Rates in California Prisons

An audit reveals that the suicide epidemic in California’s state prisons are caused by faulty leadership and oversight practices. This is leading to the state’s high suicide rates.

California state's high suicide rates led to major protests in 2016.
About 80 people gathered Oct. 1, 2016, in front of the California Institution for Women to protest its unusually high suicide rates and remember loved ones who took their lives while incarcerated there. (Photo by John M. Blodgett/SCNG)

Scott Kernan, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary, defended the CDCR.  Kernan claimed programs such substance abuse and domestic violence counseling, were developed to lower inmate suicide numbers.

Vicky Waters, Press Secretary of the CDCR, defended California prisons by bringing attention to the lowering rates of prison suicides in California prisons.

High Suicide Rates: California Inmate Suicide Statistics

Statistics show reduction efforts have not lowered California prison statistics to the national average as the high suicide rates just keep climbing higher:

  • Nationally, the average suicide rate for inmates, from 2005 to 2013, was 15.66 per 100,000
  • During the same time span, California’ s average suicide rate was much higher, at 22 per 100,000
  • Suicide rates have dropped to 20 per 100,000 inmates since 2013
  • From 2012 to 2016, 11 percent of California prison suicides were committed by women
  • Only 4 percent of the prison population in California is women.
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4 Prisons Audited in California for the State’s High Suicide Rates

Two men’s facilities and two women’s facilities were audited. The four prisons audited were as follows:

  1. California Institution for Women (CIW)
  2. California State Prison in Sacramento (SAC)
  3. Central California Women’s Facility AKA Chowchilla (CCWF)
  4. Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJD)

High Suicide Rates Caused By Staff Neglect

Shaylene "Light Blue" Graves added to the state's high suicide rates when she took her own life in a CIW prison in 2016.
Shaylene “Light Blue” Graves added to the California’s inmate suicide epidemic when she took her own life in a CIW prison in 2016. Click here to read Shaylene’s prison suicide story.

A failure to properly follow protocol has been found the cause of the state’s high suicide rates in California state prisons and county jails.

This is the leading creason so many have had to lose their incarcerated loved ones. California prisons require check-ups on potentially suicidal inmates every 15 minutes.

The audit reported that staff had been failing to perform check-ups.

The audit also found that staff had failed in properly screening suicidal inmates.

Out of the 36 cases reviewed, 26 were found to be conducted inaccurately.

California State’s High Suicide Rates: The Solution to the Problem

From the audit, suggestions were made to lower inmate suicide rate and keep inmates safe during their sentences. The suggestions were as follows:

  • train staff with strict training practices
  • install electric monitoring systems for suicidal inmates
  • revamp CDCR auditing
  • increase progress reports to the Legislature

SCPR reports:

“These statistics, combined with the significant deficiencies we identified when we reviewed suicide prevention and response practices at four prisons, raise questions regarding Corrections’ leadership on this critical issue,” the report said.

Read Prison Audit: Why Women Inmates Commit Suicides in California Prisons

Austin Wolfe
Austin Wolfe writes both professionally and creatively. He holds a BA degree in Professional Writing from York College of Pennsylvania. Mr. Wolfe currently lives in Glen Rock, PA who takes pride in being a self-proclaimed serial mumbler. trash poet. His motto? "Buy the ticket: take the ride." Austin now writes news reports for prison loved ones on the Prison Rideshare Network.