Suicide a leading cause of death in Washington jails

Clark County’s jail had more inmates die by suicide than any other Washington county.

  • Jessica Prokop The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.
  • Tuesday, June 18, 2019 10:31am
  • Northwest

By Jessica Prokop / The Columbian

Suicide is a leading cause of jail deaths, both nationally and statewide, and has been rising, nationally, since 2009, according to a state jail death report released last month by Columbia Legal Services.

Between January 2005 and June 2016, 22 inmates died in the Clark County Jail, 16 by suicide. Clark County’s jail had more inmates die by suicide than any other Washington county; King and Pierce counties reported nine and Yakima County had seven in the same time frame, the report states.

The information in the report is based on documentation obtained through the Public Records Act and was supplemented with data submitted to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, federally published data and media reports. Columbia Legal Services, a nonprofit law firm with offices across the state, obtained documentation for 54 of the state’s 59 county, local and joint-jurisdictional jails, the report says.

“Assuming this report is accurate, we’ve had a series of unfortunate events that we’ve been working to reduce over the past several years,” Clark County Jail Chief Ric Bishop said Monday.

In 2012, there were four suicides at the jail — its worst year for suicides in recent decades, according to Columbian archives, prompting jail officials to make a number of changes, including better training for staff.

As a result, the jail hasn’t had a suicide death since July 2016, Bishop said.

“We are continuing suicide mitigation efforts, and our most recent change is we’ve removed all sheets from the main jail and replaced them with blankets,” Bishop said.

The jail is also in the process of replacing bunks in medium and maximum security areas with suicide-resistant beds and bunks, he said, and corrections staff recently completed a five-year effort in crisis intervention training.

“We have been very fortunate, and staff is working very hard to prevent these tragic events,” Bishop said, adding that the Clark County Council has been supportive of the jail’s work and the need for an updated facility.

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