Jail suicides ‘nearly impossible to stop’

The first suicide at the Middletown City Jail in nearly seven years has shined a spotlight on a national problem that has perplexed law enforcement for decades: why detainees manage to kill themselves in police lockups, jail and prison facilities across the nation, often despite close monitoring.

Michael Linton Jr., 35, of Middletown, hung himself with a bed sheet last week in his cell at the Middletown City Jail. It was the first suicide at the jail since December 2008.

Linton, who faced nine to 30 years in prison if convicted of three aggravated robberies, was being monitored on camera by three corrections officers, but managed to hang himself within a two-minute window, Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said. Police and paramedics tried to revive Linton, but he was pronounced dead, according to the police report.

“This is a sad ending to a very sad story,” Muterspaw said.

In recent years, the number of suicides in corrections’ facilities has declined as authorities improved screening and prevention techniques. Still, the national rate of suicides in jail is 40 deaths per 100,000 inmates, more than three times the rate in the community at large, according to the most recent statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The last suicide in the Butler County Jail occurred in July 2012, according to Chief Anthony Dwyer.

In Ohio, eight inmates were found dead by their own hand in 2012, according to the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. Between 2001 and 2011, Ohio recorded 63 prison suicides, the ninth-most in the nation, according to a report from the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

However, in recent years, Ohio’s suicide rate has been lower than the national average. Between 2000 and 2010, Ohio recorded 12 deaths per 100,000 inmates, compared to 16 suicides per 100,000 inmates nationwide, according to the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, a prison watchdog organization.

State prison statistics show that of the 10 suicide victims in 2013, nine were male, eight were white, and all but one died by hanging themselves. They ranged in age from 25 to 61.

Local police officials said if an inmate wants to commit suicide, there is little that can done. Still, they said, numerous steps are taken to eliminate, or at least reduce, the risk of someone committing suicide. They said inmates wear jumpsuits that don’t have belts or shoelaces.

But there is no way to take bedding — the most popular form of hanging — away from inmates, they said.

They said inmates are interviewed during the booking process to determine whether they’re a suicide risk. If they are, those inmates are kept in separate cells and are monitored more closely than the rest of the jail population.

“You look for triggers,” Dwyer said. “But still, (suicides) are nearly impossible to stop.”

He said officers probably save the lives of two or three inmates a year who are trying to commit suicide.

Dwyer said after an inmate meets with the staff, and says, “I’m good,” they have been known to try to commit suicide later that night.

“It’s hard to get in their heads,” he said.

Dwyer said because of the reduction in mental health institutions, jail and prisons are becoming more and more crowded with those with mental issues. He said some inmates are so unstable they don’t understand why they’re in jail.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for those in custody, according to Lindsay M. Hayes, a researcher with the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives who has written extensively about the topic. The risk in jails is far greater because it is the first place detainees go before court, he said.

Especially those arrested for the first time; they may not understand what charges they face, how they’ll be able to post bail or how long they will be there. The uncertainty and separation can be taxing, he said.

Linton’s mother, Teresa Brooks, 55, said her son probably committed suicide because he didn’t want to return to prison, where he had spent 11 years from February 1998 to January 2011. She said her son, a single father of a 10-year-old boy, never talked about committing suicide.

“Maybe he wasn’t right in the mind at the time,” she said.

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