Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

When Jails Fail a Spate of Suicides Shows the Need for Reform

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

When Jails Fail a Spate of Suicides Shows the Need for Reform

Article excerpt

When 62-year-old Ross Frye hanged himself Sept. 19 in the Allegheny County Jail, he became the fifth inmate to commit suicide there in the past 18 months. After a death, the jail typically re-evaluates its policies. Often, as in Mr. Frye's case, it also disciplines staff.

But the spate of deaths requires something more- a better understanding of the epidemic of jail suicides nationwide. Jails across the nation should take stock of what has occurred just in the past week.

Last Monday, the Daily Commercial reported the suicide of 23-year-old Tyler R. Mraz in the Lake County Jail in Florida. Also last Monday, relatives filed a federal lawsuit against Washington County officials for failing to take action to prevent the 2015 suicide of 38-year-old Gregory Michaux Jr., who hanged himself with a bed sheet in the county jail.

The lawsuit says Mr. Michaux, locked up for about six months, made 104 pages of what he called"death notes" tragically documenting his suicidal thoughts and behavior."Goodbye cruel world," he said at one point. Another entry said,"Why do I keep failing at this? It can't be that hard to die!" A third said,"Please God forgive my cowardness and let me enter ..." The suit says he was the third inmate to take his life there in eight months.

On Tuesday, The Roanoke Times reported that five inmates at the Virginia city's jail have committed suicide since 2013, all by hanging. Also Wednesday, the Kansas City Star reported that 53-year-old Michael McNurlin committed suicide in the Jackson County Jail just four days after being sentenced to 80 years imprisonment for child sexual abuse.

Like the Allegheny County Jail, institutions in other places generally revisit policies and scrutinize staff after a suicide occurs. It isn't enough.

This troubling trend has a long arc. Suicide has been the top cause of death in"local jails" from at least 2000 through 2013, according to a report two years ago by the U. …

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