The number of Georgia inmates killing themselves has increased this year, surpassing the national average and leading some to link the rise to the state’s increased use of solitary confinement in its prison system, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Thirteen state prisoners killed themselves through Nov. 9; one was on Death Row and two were being held in strict isolation. Another prisoner being held in an isolation unit was found hanging in his cell, and died in the hospital days later. In 2016, by comparison, nine inmates committed suicide for the entire year. “There’s something going on,” said Lindsay Hayes of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives who is an expert in preventing suicides at jails, prisons and juvenile facilities. “At a lot of prisons… they are decreasing the population of lower-level offenders. What remains are inmates serving longer terms. Many of those folks have greater mental health issues, which is one of the risk factors for suicide.”
“I suspect the increase in suicides may be related to the … increased use of solitary confinement,” said Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights, which is representing inmates held in the highly restrictive special management unit at the prison in Jackson. Geraghty said they may be confined for years on end and sometimes suffer from serious mental illness. Her group has filed a federal lawsuit against the state, challenging the prison system’s use of solitary confinement. Some question whether staffing shortages means there are not enough officers to watch over troubled inmates. That means there can be a significant lapse in time before nearby prisoners can get the attention of officers. Nationally, inmate suicides started rising in 2013, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics,. In state prisons, the number of inmate suicides increased 30 percent from 2013 to 2014, the most recent national numbers available.