A 41-year-old man was found dead inside his Bexar County Jail cell Friday morning—the fourth death by suicide at the facility this month.
“It’s just something you don’t want to have happen,” says Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, whose office operates the jail. “I think the emotional loss for the family, for our deputies, for every person in this organization, it just tears you up.”
Pamerleau says deputies are heartbroken—including one who was in charge of a unit where one man died.
“He went outside and he rammed his fist into the wall and he broke his hand,” Pamerleau says. “That was because of his anger, his hurt, his frustration over the fact that someone had died on his watch.”
The name of the inmate who died this morning has not been released. Jail officials say he was housed in a special management unit, where he was checked on every 25 minutes. Inmates the mental health unit are checked on every 15 minutes, and the general population is checked on every 55 minutes.
Pamerleau says the jail has brought in more staff to do wellness checks in recent weeks.
“And we have increased the number of checks and made even more random observations throughout the jail,” Pamerleau said.
Last week, The Texas Commission on Jail Standards—the state government body charged with regulating jails—came to Bexar County for a surprise inspection. Executive Director Brandon Wood says four suicides in one month raises eyebrows, but his investigation didn’t find any obvious problems.
“The preliminary review of the of the three suicides that had occurred indicated that there no violations of minimum jail standards,” Wood says.
Wood says the idea of ‘suicide contagion’ can be a factor in situations like these.
“One of the issues that was discussed was the phenomenon of clusters whenever you have suicides,” says Wood. “Whenever you have individuals that are in close proximity, they can take cues for that.
The suicide rate for jail inmates is three times that for prisoners, according to federal statistics. Unlike at prisons, jail inmates are typically only housed for a short period of time, sometimes before sentencing. Lecturer Michelle Deitch at UT-Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs says jails are often not equipped to address all of the problems an inmate coming off the street might have.
“You’ve got a higher number of people with mental illness in the jails,” says Deitch. “You also have people are facing this very traumatic moment in their lives soon after arrest. This sort of crisis of confinement or trauma of confinement.”
Deitch points out that Texas jails revised the intake form used to screen inmates for risk of suicide following the death of Sandra Bland in Waller County.
“That has not solved the problem of jail suicide, as these four recent incidents in the Bexar County Jail indicate,” Deitch says.
Health administrators at the Bexar County Jail say staff will revisit suicide prevention training.