Texas county jails have seen a sharp decline in inmate suicides since they began using a revised mental health screening tool last December, reports the Texas Tribune. Since December 2015, 14 county jail inmates have taken their own lives, a drop from a record 34 suicides between December 2014 and November 2015. In the five years before that, inmate suicides averaged 23 a year, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, which monitors county lockups across the state. Last year, Sandra Bland was arrested by a state trooper in Waller County and died three days later in the local jail, drawing national attention and scrutiny from lawmakers, policy analysts, and activists over how jails identify and respond to mental health issues.
Last fall, lawmakers and other officials examined intake form used by jails to determine if inmates are suicide risks. Previously, jails asked inmates to self-report medical problems, mental health histories or intellectual disabilities and indicate if they felt depressed or suicidal, among other inquiries. The new screening forms use multiple questions to try to elicit the same information and give jailers lengthier instructions for responding to inmate answers. The revised form alone did not cause the “dramatic drop,” said Brandon Wood, director of the Jail Standards Commission. “There’s a lot of different factors at play there, and we realize that,” he said. “Did it help drive the conversation? Did it require counties to become more vigilant in screening? Yes. Even after screening it still requires observation of the inmates. It requires services be provided. The form itself is only one part of the issue.”