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Smith County, Texas Jail Takes Action to Prevent Inmate Suicides

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017
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Inmates committing suicide while incarcerated is a growing concern in recent years, and the Smith County, Texas, Jail is taking action. Arguably, the light began to be shed on jail suicides in a major way when Sandra Bland took her own life in the Waller County, Texas, jail on July 13, 2015. She had been arrested after being pulled over for an alleged minor traffic violation. Three days later, she was discovered hanging in a jail cell. She died and coroners say the cause of death was suicide. Since that time, laws have been changed in Texas to provide additional help for people with mental health issues who are incarcerated. The people at Smith County Jail have taken it upon themselves to take additional measures to decrease the number of inmate suicides in that facility.

Dozens of individual jail cells have been changed at Smith County jail in East Texas, and a suicide prevention cell has been created. According to Sheriff Larry Smith, there have been three suicide attempts at the jail this year alone. He said that in two of the three instances, the inmates were discovered during checks; and they were cut down from hanging themselves.

Sheriff Smith says that approximately 20% of their inmates have a mental health issue of some kind. This prompted the recent changes to single separation cells. They made it where there is nothing to drape something over.

Smith also said that individuals who are depressed or despondent should not be alone in a cell. A 12-person suicide prevention cell has now been created. The single cells are now used for inmates considered to be violent.

Other suicide prevention steps include that multiple cameras have been added to the group cell. There is an added window for observing inmates, but face-to-face observations are still important. Smith said that all of the extra eyes should effectively prevent inmates from succeeding in killing themselves.

Jail trustees renovated the group cell under the supervision of the maintenance department at Smith County Jail. All changes were funded by the inmate commissary. The changes cost the public nothing.

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