In 2011, the rate of jail suicides was 43 per 100,000 local jail inmates, which was much higher than the rate of 11.5 per 100,000 people in the country’s general population. Sources claim suicide was the leading cause of death for people in jail.
The second leading cause of death in jails is heart disease.
According to National Public Radio, About 1,000 people die in American jails every year and about a third of those are suicides.
The International Business Times writes that in the first decade of the 2000s, more than 3,500 local jail inmates committed suicide.
The suicide rates in local jails are even much higher than in (federal or state) prisons.
Why is the rate so high? Corrections expert and consultant Steve J. Martin says prison administrators have the advantage of getting detailed information about the inmates they receive. However, jails do not.
“When you come right off the street, there is a world of difference in the risk of harm that relates to that person about whom you literally know little or nothing,” he says.
NPR writes that jails screen new arrivals for depression; it’s often a questionnaire, the kind that was administered to Sandra Bland twice in Waller County.
However, even when mental illness is obvious, jailers sometimes seem dangerously indifferent.
The International Business Times writes that suicide was the leading cause of unnatural deaths in local jails between 2000 and 2007, accounting for approximately 29 percent of all jail deaths during that period, according to data kept by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Death in Custody Reporting Program.
The annual rate of those deaths has been mostly constant since the mid-1980s, according to the Justice Department data.
“The degrading and often dangerous living conditions in many jails and prisons amount to cruel and unusual punishment, jail experts and formerly incarcerated individuals have said,” writes the International Business Times. The conditions of incarceration imposed on jail inmates are conducive to the idea of suicide because the environment eliminates personal control, cuts off social support networks, restricts access to mental health resources, and creates isolation and privacy, according to an analysis by the U.S. Marshal Service.