Suicides in the two largest state prison systems, California and Texas, are increasing, says USA Today. Authorities blame the rising number of inmates kept in solitary confinement. In California, with about 170,000 inmates, there have been 41 suicides this year, the most in at least six years and a 17 percent increase from 2005; half or more of recent suicides were in units where inmates are isolated for 23 hours a day. In Texas, with 169,000 inmates, there have been 24 suicides this year, up from 22 in 2005. Most of them were in solitary confinement areas.
The trend is fueling a debate on whether solitary confinement is the best way to control or punish dangerous inmates, particularly those who are mentally ill. More than 70,000 of the 1.5 million inmates in state and federal prisons are kept in isolation. A Texas official says stress from isolation and increasing numbers of inmates with long sentences have contributed to the suicide rise. “Length of sentence is a big factor. There is despair about not getting out,” he said.