Here is a fact that most people don’t know. 41 percent of jail suicides happen within the first week of incarceration. Those figures come from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. A significant percentage of suicides also happen in the next two weeks.
Jail suicides have become a national health crisis. One overlooked by the public.
The leading cause of death in jails? Suicide.
The rates of suicide are also higher in prisons but nothing like that of county jails and municipal lock-ups.Why are there so many jail suicides? We believe that most jails simply don’t have the staffing or training to deal with mental health issues. And any corrections officer will tell you that as many as 50% of their jail population consists of inmates with mental health problems.
Another reason is that many people being booked into jail are in a desperate state. That is what brought them to the attention of police in the first place and why they were locked up. There are so few mental health beds in the United States that many communities rely on county jails to warehouse the mentally ill. The results are often disastrous.
A simple stay in a county jail should not be a life and death experience. And that is the segue to the story of Dieter Herriges-Love. Dieter was just 34 when he committed suicide in the Macomb County Jail in Mt. Clemens, Michigan.
Dieter was booked into the Macomb County Jail in 2017 after being arrested for drug possession. 16 days later he was dead. According to a lawsuit filed against the county and the county’s private healthcare provider, Wellpath, Dieter hung himself with a bedsheet attached to the bars of his cell.
He was the third suicide at the county jail in just three months.
Dieter Herriges-Love’s mother sued both Wellpath and the county. She claims the jail knew he was under psychiatric care and on meds at the time of his arrest but failed to do a suicide risk assessment and instead placed him general population. Jail guards failed to tell medical staff that he was exhibiting symptoms of drug withdrawals. For 10 days he did not receive any of his meds.
After the lawsuit was filed, the county sheriff issued a statement saying, Dieter Herriges “chose to take his own life for reasons known only to himself. He did so without sharing those reasons with anyone, he did so without first communicating his intentions to others, and he did so without drawing anyone's attention.”
The county took no responsibility for the young man’s death.
Fast forward to August 2021 and Wellpath paid $100,000. Macomb County agreed to pay $1 million.
Jail Liability for Suicides
Suicides are far too common in county jails and lockups. While no jailer can prevent every suicide, the county and its healthcare provider can often be held liable if they failed to take reasonable steps to protect vulnerable inmates.
Jails have an obligation to screen new inmates to determine if they have underlying mental health issues, may be a suicide risk and if they are withdrawing from drugs or alcohol. Simply throwing a new inmate in general population with no screening or treatment for existing mental health problems or substance abuse issues is a recipe for disaster. We are shocked that the rate of suicide among these inmates isn’t even higher.
If a loved one has committed suicide in a jail, prison or lockup, we may be able to help. For more information, contact us online, by email [hidden email] or by phone 866-836-4684. All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept confidential.