Buffalo Jail Suicide Rate Five Times National Average


At the 680-bed Erie County Holding Facility in Buffalo, N.Y., six inmates have committed suicide in the past five years, as many as at Rikers Island, the sprawling New York City jail that houses about 14,000 inmates, reports ProPublica.org. County jails, most of them originally designed to hold low-level offenders, now serve as de facto psychiatric wards. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca famously referred to the jails he oversees as “the largest mental health institution in the country.”

While large jail systems have made inroads in safeguarding mentally ill inmates, sharply reducing suicide rates since the early 1980s, some smaller jails — hobbled by poor layouts, thin staffing. and inadequate training — are struggling to meet the most basic requirements set by federal law. Suicides account for more than two of five deaths at smaller jails, versus fewer than one of five in the 50 largest jails, U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics show. Inmates at smaller jails remain twice as likely as those at larger jails to die by their own hand. Detainees at the Erie facility kill themselves at a rate five times the national average. “It is difficult for these small jails when they are competing with resources that go to free society,” said Christine Tartaro, criminologist at New Jersey’s Richard Stockton College and co-author of the 2009 book “Suicide and Self-Harm in Prisons and Jails.”

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