An independent study requested by the Massachusetts prison system has found serious shortcomings in the state’s handling of inmates at risk of committing suicide, the Boston Globe reports. The report, commissioned after a sharp increase in prisoner suicides in the last two years, concludes that prison policies and practices are contributing to the problem. Among them: staff members do not have enough training in suicide prevention; guards fail to check frequently enough on some inmates at risk of suicide; some cells used to house suicidal inmates have not been stripped of features they could use to harm themselves; inmates under suicide watch become even more isolated because they are denied visits, showers, phone calls, and time outside their cells.
Ten inmates killed themselves in 2005 and 2006. Another was left brain dead by a suicide attempt. Five of the 11 inmates had recently been on suicide watches, and six had histories of mental health problems. The review was done by Lindsay Hayes for the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, a nonprofit center based in Baltimore. The 63-page report recommends changes in prison rules and procedures, including eight hours of suicide prevention training for employees and better internal communication on inmates’ mental health.