De­spite sui­cide watch, in­mate deaths com­mon

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY HOWARD CO­HEN AND DAVID OVALLE hco­[email protected]­ami­her­ [email protected]­ami­her­ Howard Co­hen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCo­hen

As news of ac­cused sex traf­ficker Jef­frey Ep­stein’s sui­cide in his Man­hat­tan jail cell ex­ploded on so­cial me­dia, one of the ques­tions peo­ple have is: Was he on sui­cide watch, and if so, how did he end up killing him­self?

Ep­stein’s death comes one day af­ter the re­lease of a damn­ing trove of doc­u­ments that named his madam and wealthy and pow­er­ful men in pol­i­tics, academia and busi­ness who may have been pro­vided with un­der­age girls for sex.

At one point dur­ing his jail­ing, Ep­stein, 66, was placed on sui­cide watch. But it ap­pears he was taken off sui­cide watch since then. Ep­stein’s death be­came pub­lic Sat­ur­day morn­ing.

Chris­tine Tar­taro, a pro­fes­sor of crim­i­nal jus­tice at Stockton Univer­sity in New Jer­sey, said that while Ep­stein’s death raises con­cerns about how he was han­dled be­hind bars, in­mate sui­cides are com­mon in pre-trial fa­cil­i­ties.

“They are the lead­ing cause of deaths in jails,” said Tar­taro, the au­thor of “Sui­cide and Self-Harm in Pris­ons and Jails.”

Even the fact that Ep­stein had pre­vi­ously been on sui­cide watch, then moved off of it, is not un­usual in jail set­tings, said Tar­taro. With­out ac­cess to Ep­stein’s psy­cho­log­i­cal as­sess­ments, it’s im­pos­si­ble to know if his case was han­dled prop­erly, she said.

“The point of sui­cide watch is to get them through the ini­tial sui­cide cri­sis, and then to work on help­ing the in­mate nav­i­gate the cor­rec­tional en­vi­ron­ment with­out at­tempt­ing sui­cide,” Tar­taro said. “There are sit­u­a­tions in which the in­mate will feel bet­ter, and then regress and be­come sui­ci­dal again.”

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Bureau of Jus­tice Sta­tis­tics, the na­tion’s jails had a sui­cide rate of 46 per 100,000 in 2013, the last re­ported year. That’s higher than the rate in gen­eral so­ci­ety, and in pris­ons, where in­mates have been al­ready con­victed.


In gen­eral, sui­cide watch is an ag­gres­sive mon­i­tor­ing process used to make sure that some­one in some type of cus­tody – ei­ther in jail, prison or a hos­pi­tal – can not kill them­selves.

Of­fi­cials place peo­ple on sui­cide watch when there is a strong risk that the per­son is vul­ner­a­ble to sui­cide – ei­ther through warn­ing signs, di­rect stated in­ten­tion or pre­vi­ous at­tempts. Ep­stein was found on the floor of his cell in a fe­tal po­si­tion with neck wounds on July 24, for in­stance.

Peo­ple on sui­cide watch are usu­ally put in an ob­ser­va­tion room and kept away from po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous ob­jects – in­clud­ing a belt, fab­ric that can be fash­ioned into a noose, or sharp ob­jects, ac­cord­ing to Slate.


But some­times a de­ter­mined per­son will still stymie law en­force­ment and die even while on a sui­cide watch.

For­mer NFL New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots player Aaron Her­nan­dez hanged him­self in his Bos­ton prison cell in 2017 while serv­ing a life sen­tence for the first de­gree mur­der shoot­ing death of his for­mer friend Odin Lloyd in 2013, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

Ar­can Cetin, 20, charged with killing five peo­ple in a Wash­ing­ton state mall in 2016, hanged him­self in his cell at the Sno­homish County Jail in 2017, CNN re­ported.

Robert Se­man, a triple-mur­der sus­pect ac­cused of mo­lest­ing and killing a 10-year-old girl and then killing her grand­par­ents in an ar­son fire, jumped to his death from the fourth floor of an Ohio court­house while in cus­tody, in what po­lice called an ap­par­ent sui­cide in 2017.

Stu­art Alexan­der, known as the “Sausage King” and in a max­i­mum sur­veil­lance hos­pi­tal cell at San Quentin State Prison, was found un­re­spon­sive in De­cem­ber 2005, ac­cord­ing to the Los An­ge­les Times.

Turns out Alexan­der had put on 80 pounds while in cus­tody, had health is­sues, and it was later de­ter­mined he died of a pul­monary em­bolism.

Ariel Cas­tro, con­victed in the kid­nap­ping and rap­ing of three girls he held pris­oner at his Cleve­land home for a decade – im­preg­nat­ing one of them – killed him­self by hang­ing in his Ohio prison cell in 2013, WBNS 10TV re­ported. He was iso­lated from other pris­on­ers “for his own pro­tec­tion,” of­fi­cials said at the time.

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