The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

State & National News

September 4, 2013

Crime blog: Why is it so easy for prisoners to commit suicide?

NEW YORK — Ariel Castro apparently hanged himself in his prison cell Tuesday night, one month into the life-plus-1,000-years sentence he received for kidnapping three Cleveland women and holding them captive for a decade. Though Castro was in protective custody, which meant that somebody checked on him every 30 minutes, he was still able to commit suicide without anybody noticing. In a post for Slate, Josh Voorhees noted that "the most obvious question now facing prison officials is how the 53-year-old managed to hang himself while in protective custody." It might be an obvious question, but it's not an unfamiliar one. Prisoners commit suicide all the time - and corrections officials are hard-pressed to stop it.

In a recent report on mortality rates behind bars, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that suicide was by far the largest single cause of death in local jails from 2000 to 2011. (The suicide stats were much lower for state prisons during that same timespan, but, even so, a state prison inmate was about three times more likely to die from suicide than from homicide.) Most of these suicides were hangings. But unlike a gallows, which will snap your neck and kill you quickly, prison hangings are often drawn-out affairs in which the inmate maintains contact with the ground and slowly asphyxiates to death. Theoretically, many of these suicides could have been prevented if corrections officials would have noticed them in time. But America's jails and prisons are overcrowded and understaffed, and consequently there is much that goes unnoticed.

While a suicide watch will reduce the risk that a given inmate will kill himself, it can't eliminate that risk entirely. As Daniel Engber wrote for Slate in 2005, in many states, a suicide watch basically means that corrections officials put the prisoner in an observation room and visit him at random intervals to make sure he is still alive. The prisoner is often watched by closed-circuit camera, too, but cameras sometimes have blind spots, and the footage is not always monitored closely. In acute cases, suicide watches can involve 24-hour in-person surveillance, but that's too expensive to maintain indefinitely.

Could better technology help jails and prisons prevent more inmate suicides? In a recent report sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, researchers from GE described a prototype Doppler radar-based alert system that could help "indicate a suicide attempt in-progress by observing and interpreting motion related to heartbeat, breathing, and limb movement." The system would be installed in jail cells, and when it detected physiological responses to asphyxiation - "spontaneous gasping, struggling associated with the mental anguish of oxygen starvation (dyspnea), and sudden changes to or absence of heartbeat and breath" - it would alert corrections personnel, who would then come and revive the inmate.

I don't know whether this Doppler system is truly effective, although GE's initial tests seem promising. But I do think these sorts of technological solutions are worth exploring in greater depth, because people who want to stop suicide behind bars need all the help they can get.

               

      

 

1
Text Only
State & National News
  • linda-ronstadt.jpg Obama had crush on First Lady of Rock

    Linda Ronstadt remained composed as she walked up to claim her National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony Monday afternoon.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brother sues W.Va. senator over business loan

    FAIRMONT, W. Va. - U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's brother claims he's owed $1.7 million that he loaned to keep a family carpet out of bankruptcy in the 1980s.

    July 28, 2014

  • CATS-DOGS281.jpg Where cats are more popular than dogs in the U.S.-and all over the world

    We all know there are only two types of people in the world: cat people and dog people. But data from market research firm Euromonitor suggest that these differences extend beyond individual preferences and to the realm of geopolitics: it turns out there are cat countries and dog countries, too.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • WORLD NEWS: Fast food comes to standstill in China

    BEIJING - The shortage of meat is the result of China's latest food scandal, in which a Shanghai supplier allegedly tackled the problem of expired meat by putting it in new packaging and shipping it to fast-food restaurants around the country

    July 28, 2014

  • Facebook continues moneymaking trend

    WASHINGTON - Facebook seems to have figured out - for now at least - the holy grail for all media right now: how to make money selling mobile ads.

    July 25, 2014

  • Arizona's prolonged lethal injection is fourth in U.S. this year

    NEW YORK - Arizona's execution of double-murderer Joseph Wood marked the fourth time this year that a state failed to dispatch a convict efficiently, according to the Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal group.

    July 25, 2014

  • N.C. Energy Policy Council Long Range Energy Generation and Renewable Energy Committee to meet

    RALEIGH – The North Carolina Energy Policy Council’s Long Range Energy Generation and Renewable Energy Committee will meet via conference call at 9 a.m. July 31.

    July 24, 2014

  • N.C. State University Turfgrass Field Day set for Aug. 13

    N.C. State University’s annual Turfgrass Field Day will be held in Raleigh at the Lake Wheeler Turfgrass Research Lab, Aug. 13, 8:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. One of the largest events of its kind in the country, the field day offers the industry and general public a chance to view the Turfgrass Program’s ongoing research trials and speak directly with N.C. State faculty and staff.

    July 24, 2014

  • NCSU Study: Urban Heat Boosts Some Pest Populations 200-Fold, Killing Red Maples

                New research from North Carolina State University shows that urban “heat islands” are slowly killing red maples in the southeastern United States. One factor is that researchers have found warmer temperatures increase the number of young produced by the gloomy scale insect – a significant tree pest – by 300 percent, which in turn leads to 200 times more adult gloomy scales on urban trees.

    July 23, 2014

  • An oncologist uses scorpion venom to locate cancer cells

    Olson, a pediatric oncologist and research scientist in Seattle, has developed a compound he calls Tumor Paint. When injected into a cancer patient, it seems to light up all the malignant cells so surgeons can easily locate and excise them.

    July 22, 2014

House Ads
Seasonal Content