Preventing Suicide In Jails: A Program Analysis

Innovative Solutions for Common,Systemic, Classification and Housing Challenges

Executive Summary

Security administrators of jails have sought to carefully analyze their suicide prevention programs, examining conventional practices regarding suicide observations, special needs classification, and systematic removal of inmates from suicide watch. In most jails, challenges in suicide intervention can span many areas including: the ability of staff to identify high-risk inmates at intake, insufficient training for officers, and an institutional culture contributing to lack of accountability.

Perhaps an even bigger challenge commonly faced by jails (especially older facilities) is housing limitations from structural (physical) design or layout. Accommodating the direct needs of mentally ill inmates in older, more antiquated facilities can prove to be a major challenge, especially for those inmates with severe mental illness and tendencies to self-harm. A big question for these jails then becomes: How do we manage mental illness within a structure or setting that is ill-equipped to address the mental health needs of special populations?

The Falcon Approach to a Suicide Prevention Program

Falcon experts provided assistance to a jail that sought answers to this question. Jail Administrators for this facility aimed to establish a “best practice” suicide prevention system but the structural layout was a significant obstacle. Based on an on-site system analysis and interviews with key security staff, Falcon investigated how physical structure and layout hindered the implementation of an effective suicide prevention program and process.

Areas of examination included:

  • The Facility’s Current Suicide Prevention System
  • The Facility’s Classification System and Operations – Housing and Special Needs Categories
  • Current Suicide Intervention Process for Male Inmates (Including Special Management Inmates)
  • Current Suicide Intervention Process for Female Inmates (Including Special Management Inmates)
  • Current Suicide Prevention Criteria and Guiding Principles
  • Current Process in Handling Special Problem Areas

Areas of questioning included:

  • Was the current suicide prevention system in the facility appropriate?
  • Given the facility’s structural limitations, did the suicide prevention system follow industry standards?
  • Were monitoring and management protocols consistent with best practices?
  • Considering physical layout, were booking observation procedures appropriate?
  • Were overflow watches handled and followed consistently and according to best practices?
  • When inmates were determined to be no longer at risk, did the facility utilize a “step-down” process to safely transition inmates into the General Population (GP)?
  • If not, how could this be safely implemented considering structural limitations?
  • Finally, how did the facility’s cultural values promote or hinder the safe management of its special populations?

Falcon worked with this facility to answer these specific questions and helped provide practical, sustainable solutions that enabled the safe and secure management of high-risk populations.

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