Smart Talk: How do jails report deaths?

County jail suicide numbers getting attention

In the last four years, there were 81 reported suicides in county jails. However, the number attempted is much higher, and it rose significantly between 2017 and 2018. In addition, inmate advocates are concerned the total number of suicides could be higher, because some deaths are attributed to natural causes and not reported. 

To put the numbers in perspective, a criminal justice report recently compared the 2013 suicide rate for local jails, which was 46 per 100,000 inmates, to the age-adjusted suicide rate among the general population. That general population rate was 12.6 suicides per 100,000 people in 2013. 

County officials say the problem has a lot to do with the changing role of county jails. They are not just a way-point to the prison system; they have become a place to assess and treat inmate mental health problems, as well.    

Appearing on Smart Talk Monday to discuss the county jail suicide data were PA Post reporter Ed Mahon, Claire Shubik-Richards, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, and Brinda Penyak, deputy director, County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania 

Key points:

1:06 – A look at the numbers

4:50 – Why isn’t there uniform reporting?

13:39 – Listener question, “Do inmates have access to their medications after intake?”

24:50 – What are counties doing to prevent suicides?


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