Experts Attribute Increased Suicides in Jails to Rise in Number of Inmates with Mental Illness
The number of inmates in California who committed suicide reached a record high last year, which some experts attributed to an increase in the number of mentally ill individuals in the state's jail system, the Los Angeles Times reports. In 2001, 38 inmates in the state's corrections system committed suicide, a "sharp rise" over the 23 suicides reported in 2000 and the most reported since 1983, when 37 inmates committed suicide. In addition, 10 inmates have committed suicide in the first three months of 2002. According to the Times, many of the inmates who committed suicide in the past few years suffered from mental illnessed that should have raised a "red flag" to jail officials. "It's not surprising (that the numbers are going up) given the number of individuals in county jails identified as mentally ill," Deputy Director of the State Board of Corrections William Crout said. The number of inmates who receive mental health treatment has more than tripled, from 1,191 in 1995 to 4,300 last year, according to Crout (Johnson, Los Angeles Times, 6/16).
Meanwhile, according to a Bakersfield Californian editorial, the state should place "aged, seriously ill" prison inmates in "central medical facilities" that do not have the "expensive security of a prison housing young mainstream convicts." The editorial points out that the number of prison inmates in the state between the ages of 55 and 59 has risen from 500 to 3,000 in the past 15 years, and the number of inmates ages 60 and older has increased about six times, to 2,300. According to the editorial, older prisoners have "multiple serious, chronic and debilitating illnesses that are hugely expensive to treat." The editorial adds that the Department of Corrections last year spent $676 million on health care for prison inmates, and "everyone agrees it costs more to house an aged, enfeebled convict than a younger healthy one." The editorial concludes, "In a state facing a $24 billion budget deficit, ignoring a way to save potentially millions of dollars per year while maintaining a tough law-and-order stance is unconscionable and bad for both taxpayers and convicts" (Bakersfield Californian, 6/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.