How Portland Jail Tries To Prevent Suicides


A Portland, Or., man threw himself off a nearby parking garage shortly after his release from jail. His death was a blow to jail staff who have worked mostly successfully over the past decade to reduce inmate suicides, bringing the rate below the national average for big city jails, reports The Oregonian. An independent consultant has expressed concern about reports that jail workers might be pressured not to diagnose inmates as suicidal because of the extra cost and time for supervision. Jail leaders say that pressure continues today. The dead man’s family wants some answers about why the suicidal teen was released.

About 45,000 people pass through Multnomah County’s jails each year. Some spend a night sobering up, others serve short sentences or await trial for more serious charges. One of the jail staff’s most important responsibilities is to keep the people alive, sometimes against an inmate’s best attempts to thwart the effort. Nationwide, suicide accounts for one-third of deaths among jail inmates. Inmates are more than four times as likely to kill themselves as members of the general population. In Multnomah County, officials have worked to keep suicides down, twice hiring an outside expert to take stock of the system after several suicides raised questions about prevention. They have made physical as well as procedural changes and placed hundreds of inmates each year under the supervision of guards through “suicide watch.”


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