Study: Ohio prison inmates who commit suicide not limited to those on mental health units

9/23/2013
ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS — Suicides by Ohio inmates often involve prisoners who have committed violent crimes, are not limited to those in prison mental health units and tend to happen either early in an inmate’s sentence or after a decade or more of serving time, according to a report released today.

Suicides generally occur in either high-security prisons or in reception facilities where inmates first enter the system, and almost always involve men and most often white men, according to the report by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.

The study said 88 Ohio inmates killed themselves since 2000, a rate lower than the national average.

Prison suicides are being scrutinized in Ohio following the Sept. 3 suicide of Cleveland kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro, as well as the Aug. 4 suicide of death row inmate Billy Slagle.

Several internal prison reviews of those deaths are underway, including the circumstances surrounding the suicides and, in Castro’s case, whether he received adequate medical and mental health treatment. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has also hired two experts on prison conditions and suicides to review the Slagle and Castro suicides specifically and all suicides going back two years.

“We are committed to suicide prevention in our facilities and take this issue very seriously,” prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith wrote in an email today.

In the wake of the other two suicides, Smith said Smith said a condemned killer scheduled to die Wednesday for killing two men during a 1994 shooting spree has been placed under constant surveillance well ahead of schedule to avert potential suicide.

Harry Mitts Jr. has been constantly monitored since last Wednesday, a full week before his scheduled execution. Policy calls for a suicide watch to begin 72 hours in advance. One staff member watches him at all times, Smith said.

Mitts received the death penalty in the killings of John Bryant and Garfield Heights Police Sgt. Dennis Glivar. His legal appeals are exhausted and Gov. John Kasich has denied mercy.

The majority of inmates who kill themselves do so within the first couple of years of incarceration or after about 10 years inside, the report said.

Hanging is the most common method. Slagle used a nylon belt, while Castro used a bedsheet, according to coroners’ reports.

Nearly nine of every 10 suicides were committed by inmates who had committed murder, assault, rape, robbery, sexual battery or burglary, the report said. Three quarters were white and 94 percent were men.

The union representing Ohio’s 6,300 prison guards says the agency’s suicide reviews should focus more on prison overcrowding and understaffing.

Castro pleaded guilty to hundreds of counts of kidnapping and rape after imprisoning three women in his Cleveland home for a decade. He also pleaded guilty to aggravated murder for forcing one of the women to miscarry.

Slagle was sentenced to death for fatally stabbing a neighbor during a burglary.

An inmate at Lebanon Correctional Institution who committed suicide this month was serving a 21-year sentence for rape.