The suicide of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez in a Massachusetts state prison last month has put a harsh spotlight on the suicide risk for inmates. A much bigger and largely unnoticed group who have taken their lives while behind bars have been in the state’s county jails, where inmates serve shorter sentences or await trial, the Boston Globe reports. At least 42 men and women have died by suicide in Massachusetts county jails since 2012, more than twice the number of suicides in the state prison system over the period, even though both systems house roughly the same number of inmates.
While state prison suicides have declined in recent years, the rate of suicides in the state’s 13 county jails has doubled, reports The Eye, the online news site of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. Almost no one is focusing on the county jail death toll. No state office collects or examines death data in county jails. No regulator requires county sheriffs to report the results of internal mortality reviews. Jails rarely release information about deaths to the public in deference to confidentiality rules and privacy concerns. That reticence also makes it difficult for outside advocates to monitor suicides. To obtain information on jail suicides statewide, reporters had to request death data from each of the 13 sheriff’s departments that house inmates. Several counties, including five of the six largest, declined to release names, requiring reporters to identify suicide victims one by one. The review found that the number of jail suicides rose from an average of four annually between 2006 and 2011 to eight a year from 2012 to 2016.