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Data: Rate of attempted suicide doubles in Texas prisons

Feb 7, 2018 | Associated Press

The attempted suicide rate recorded inside Texas prisons has more than doubled in four years, according to data.

State prisons averaged 65 suicide attempts per month in 2013, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice data outlined in Emergency Action Center reports. The prisons averaged 150 attempts per month in the first 11 months of 2017.

The state’s prison population has also decreased over that time, meaning the rate of suicide attempts increased even more than the original numbers show, the Houston Chronicle reported.

“The reports may give us the raw numbers but what we’re not seeing is what is the system doing to address a rising rate and discover some of the root cause,” said Doug Smith, a policy analyst with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “You need a system that doesn’t just report on trends but seeks to understand it, and I think that understanding the why is critically important.”

Some experts pointed to staff turnover and an increasing population of prisoners with mental illnesses as to what’s behind the shift.

“We’ve had a doubling (over the past decade) in the number of mentally ill offenders,” said Dr. Joseph Penn, director of mental health services at the University of Texas Medical Branch, which oversees inmates’ health care. “We’re seeing more and more in our demographics.”

But the Criminal Justice Department said the increase stems from a 2013 push for better suicide prevention training that could have broadened the understanding of what’s considered an attempt.

“We believe this (the training) translated into correctional officers more frequently inquiring further when they encountered an offender who may be in emotional distress and reporting it to the Emergency Action Center,” said Jason Clark, spokesman for the department.

Clark said most attempts don’t result in death and that nearly 90 percent don’t involve any recorded injuries.

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