SAN DIEGO — The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department announced Tuesday that it has adopted a slate of policies designed to prevent inmate suicides at its jails, actions undertaken following the release of a report that decried a “shocking” number of such deaths at local lockup facilities.
The improvements were based on recommendations in a report by Lindsay Hayes, an authority on suicide in jails and prisons who was hired by the county last year in response to the highly critical survey of its detention centers by Disability Rights California, an advocacy agency for the disabled.
The DRC study, released in April 2018, noted that more than 30 inmates had taken their own lives at area detention centers since 2010, a frequency that “far outpace(d) other county jail systems in the state.” The agency concluded that the “shocking number of inmates dying by suicide” locally pointed to an urgent need for corrective action on the part of the county.
In announcing the subsequent changes, the Sheriff’s Department stated that it had “worked towards this (suicide prevention) goal by developing and implementing programs such as Enhanced Observation Housing and seeking accreditation with the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.”
So far, the county has addressed 26 of 32 proposals put forth by Hayes for improvements and “continue(s) to research and evaluate the remaining recommendations,” according to the sheriff’s officials.
In his report, Hayes wrote that he had met with many detention- services officials as well as deputies, nurses, and mental health personnel in San Diego County, and found that they “appeared genuinely concerned about inmate suicide and committed to taking whatever actions were necessary to reduce the opportunity for such tragedy in the future.”
Hayes, a project director with the Baltimore-based National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, asserted that the county’s efforts “have already resulted in a significant decrease in the number of inmate suicides since late 2016.”
Changes the Sheriff’s Department states that it made based on Hayes’ recommendations include:
— implementing new mandatory suicide-prevention and mental health training for sworn, professional and contractual employees;
— designating private interview spaces at booking facilities, San Diego Central Jail and Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility to ensure privacy and confidentiality during the booking process, with planning underway for a similar asset at Vista Detention Facility;
— adopting updated screening and intake procedures, including restructured interviews making use of open-ended and non-time-sensitive questions to identify those having suicidal thoughts;
— enhancing monitoring based on individual levels of suicide risk;
— instituting mental health triage and referral protocols, along with quality-assurance processes and communication standards for staff members;
— assigning a facility mental health team to manage the treatment needs of suicidal and mentally ill patients for continuity of care; and
— creation of a Suicide Prevention Focused Response Team to track self-harm incidents, attempted suicides and suicides.