A Surprising Trend Emerges in Texas Jail Suicides Since Sandra Bland's Death

Sandra Bland, who died in an isolated southeast Texas jail cell in July 2015, should never have been behind bars. A traffic stop of questionable necessity -- failure to signal a lane change -- quickly spun out of control.Three days later, she was found dead. An autopsy found she had hanged herself with a plastic garbage bag.Her death in Waller County understandably was held up as a symbol of the divide over police treatment of minority citizens. But her awful story illustrates a far less talked-about group, prisoners who commit suicide in Texas county jails.Bland's was only one of a record 34 suicides in those facilities between December 2014 and November 2015, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.But it was the publicity around the gut-wrenching story of the 28-year-old, who had just moved to Prairie View to work for her alma mater, that forced the first of many much-needed improvements in county jails.And those changes are showing sizable results.As just reported by the Texas Tribune, inmate suicides have dropped significantly in the last 12 months -- a period corresponding with county jails' use of a revised mental health screening tool. Since last December, 14 county jail inmates have taken their own lives; prior to the 34 deaths in 2015, suicides averaged 23 for the five previous years.After the outrage around Bland's death, the state partnered with Dallas-based Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute for Texas to create a new inmate intake form that requires jailers to ask more specific and straightforward questions when booking individuals. Previously, mental-health guidance depended solely on a haphazard protocol of inmates self-reporting problems.The state also provided lengthier instructions for how to elicit and assess answers. For example, if an inmate answers yes to any question, the staffer must notify a supervisor, a magistrate and a mental health official immediately.Jailed individuals -- especially those who have been locked up for less than a month and whose cases often have not even been adjudicated -- are at a much higher risk for suicide than inmates who have moved to state prison.Brandon Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, told Texas Tribune reporter Jonathan Silver that the new form -- and the additional vigilance it triggers -- has concentrated far greater attention on inmates' potential mental health concerns.  Continue reading...

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