Our view: Suicide efforts at Grand Forks facilities merit mention
Herald editorial board Jails and prisons often receive harsh criticism when an inmate commits suicide. It's really no surprise, since those facilities are charged with protecting -- not just disciplining -- each inmate in their care. When that sa...
Herald editorial board
Jails and prisons often receive harsh criticism when an inmate commits suicide. It's really no surprise, since those facilities are charged with protecting - not just disciplining - each inmate in their care. When that safety is not provided, it warrants a close look at procedures, methods and mistakes.
If an inmate at Grand Forks County Correctional Center or the Grand Forks County Juvenile Detention Center dies by suicide, the Herald will ask those questions.
Meanwhile, we believe it should also be reported when our taxpayer-funded detention facilities have been successful in preventing inmate suicides. Friday, the Herald reported the county jail hasn't had a suicide since it opened in 2006, despite numerous attempts - 24 since 2013, according to information gleaned from an open-records request. The Herald also reported Friday the juvenile facility hasn't had a detainee die by suicide since it opened in 1979.
This is great news, and is deserving of credit - especially in light of national numbers that show inmate suicide rates climbing.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 372 jail suicides in 2014, up from 328 in 2013. Since jail inmates tend to be more likely to commit suicide than prison inmates, the Grand Forks statistics tend to shine even brighter.
Why is the suicide rate higher in jails than in prisons? Scholars say it's due to "shock of confinement," according to an article written last year by Christopher Zoukis of the Huffington Post.
He wrote that in jails, detainees aren't accustomed to "the disruption from regular life and the added stresses and special challenges for an inexperienced inmate." Also, Zoukis wrote that some scholars believe jails "are less likely to have intake methods and staff trained to identify mental health issues, while prisons are more likely to have better information on their inmates and greater resources and experience handling those issues."
Yet in Grand Forks, methods and safeguards evidently are working. According to the Herald's report, officers go through blocks of suicide prevention training, which includes learning how to spot certain signs and behaviors. Officers check on inmates at least every hour if not more. Officers can respond to incidents - ranging from suicide attempts to fights - in a matter of a minute.
Here's one example: The only suicide attempt at the county jail so far this year occurred in February; jail staff responded in 35 seconds and medical staff within 60 seconds.
And here's something more important: In an interview with the Herald, Bridgie Hansen, the administrator in charge of training officers at both centers in Grand Forks, said her advice is to follow the golden rule.
"If you are disrespectful, you can't expect an inmate to be respectful back to you," she said. "You have to be a light in a dark place."
That's good advice. And along with effective training, watchful eyes and fast responses, the combination seems to be working well in Grand Forks County.