Moya Atkinson, MSW, co-founder of Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement (SWASC)
Alison Lauro’s timely ten-page article Suicide Rates on the Risethat appeared in NASW’s Social
Work Advocates’ failed to mention the high rate of suicide and
self-mutilation within prisons, jails and detention centers or the role social
workers play or should/could play in these settings.
Facts – Isolated Prisoners at risk of suicide
among prisoners is on the rise. In 2014, there were at 3,927 inmate deaths, in
state (3,483) and federal (444) prisons, the largest number of such deaths
reported since tracking began in 2001. From 2013 to 2014, the number of suicides
among state prisoners climbed from 192 to 249, an increase of 30%. Suicides
made up 7% of all state prisoner deaths in 2014, the largest percentage since
2001. Between 2001 and 2014, whites had a suicide mortality rate of 28 per
100,000 prisoners, compared to 8 for blacks and 16 for Hispanics.
The suicide rate for jail prisoners in 2014 was 45 per 100,000 prisoners, but the rate for whites was 95 compared to 19 for blacks and 23 for Hispanics. On average, a prisoner who committed suicide had been in jail for 9 days. About half (47%) of the suicides occurred in general population housing areas, while around 20% were in segregation or special housing units. Suicides among jail prisoners in 2014 were up 13% from 2013.https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2018/jan/8/department-justice-releases-reports-prison-and-jail-deaths/
According to the summer 2018 issue of CorrectCare, a publication of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) Suicide remains one of the ten leading causes of death in the United States and, according to the U.S. Department of Justice it is the leading cause of death in jails”.
Where was NASW’s Manager for Social Justice and Human Rights When the National
Commission on Correctional Health Care’ Initiative to Partner with The American
Foundation on Suicide Prevention was launched?
NASW’s Manager for Social
Justice and Human Rights represents NASW on the Board of the National
Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) as a Supporting
“Partnering with NCCHC, a
longtime national leader in the field of correctional health care, is
critically important and will allow us to reach an audience that is especially
vulnerable to suicide”, said Bob Gebbia, AFSP’s CEO. “Research tells us that
people in times of transition are at especially high-risk for suicide.
Partnering with NCCHC will enable us to educate both correctional staff and
health care professionals who work in the correctional system about suicide
risk and how to identify and care for the suicidal inmate-patient. We know we
can’t do this alone. Only by working with experts like NCCHC will we be able to
save more lives.”
“This partnership creates a
real opportunity to bring forth major interventions with the potential for
immediately saving lives,” said Brent Gibson, MD, MPH, CCHP-P, NCCHC’s chief
health officer. “We greatly appreciate
AFSP’s focus and support. The collaboration between our organizations and
national health care providers underscores the importance of working together
to tackle the problem of suicide…” NCCHC educates health care professionals on
suicide risk and outlines current best practices for suicide prevention and
intervention in its Standards for Health
Services, the basis of its health care services accreditation and
“AFSP’s Project 2025 is
focused on four critical areas where evidence points to saving the most lives
in the shortest amount of time, one of which is the correctional system (emphasis added) where contact with jails and
prisons represents high-risk periods for suicide. By focusing on the correctional system, AFSP believes more than 1,000
lives can be saved by 2025.”
Good news for those health professionals who can
access the AFSP?
Will social workers benefit
from this partnership if NASW and its representatives remain silent partners?
After all, the NASW Board of Directors has also failed to keep its promise for
its 2018-2019 Policy on Criminal Justice. There has been no action on ending
solitary confinement or helping social workers caught in the nightmare of
working in an environment of brutality