Jamal Miller’s death last September was the seventh suicide in Illinois juvenile correctional facilities in the past decade, reports the Chicago Tribune. Those deaths, as well as 175 serious suicide attempts during the same period, reflect a breakdown in the system that is supposed to rehabilitate and protect troubled and vulnerable young people, a Tribune investigation found. Officials estimate that about two-thirds of the 1,200 inmates in the state’s eight juvenile justice facilities have been diagnosed with a mental illness and that half the young men and nearly all the young women have thought about or attempted suicide before they enter the system.
While it may be impossible to eliminate all suicide risks behind bars, the state has failed to take simple steps to protect these teenagers from themselves. The type of metal-frame bunk bed that Miller used to hang himself, which has a sturdy bar across the top, had been involved in three other suicides since 2000 and in at least 21 attempts. But until Miller’s death, a lack of urgency and political will kept the bunk beds from being removed. Although officials are now moving to replace them, metal-frame bunks still make up nearly 60 percent of the system’s beds. Other equipment and furnishings pose similar, overlooked hazards.