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Idaho prisons see jump in inmate suicide attempts

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Department of Correction officials say they're seeing an increase in attempted suicides and other mental health problems within the state's prisons and jails. Department Director Brent Reinke told Board of Correction members Thursday that in the last month guards found four inmates “hanging from sheets” at facilities around the state. One of those inmates — a man housed at the Nez Perce County Jail who was about to return to prison — died before guards found him. The remaining three were found and rescued. Reinke says the number of inmates showing signs of suicidal behavior or other mental health problems has also risen. He says that in June, the department tallied 78 reports of inmate problems or unusual behavior, compared to 56 in June of 2012.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.


Idaho officials say prison suicide attempts up
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Department of Correction officials say they're seeing an increase in attempted suicides and other mental health problems within the state's prisons.

Department Director Brent Reinke told Board of Correction members Thursday that in the last month alone guards found four inmates “hanging from sheets” at prisons and jails around the state. One of those inmates — a man housed at the Nez Perce County Jail who was about to return to prison on a probation violation — died before guards found him. The remaining three were found and rescued.

“We are seeing an increased level of severity that is very, very concerning,” Reinke said. “We really need to pay attention from a mental health standpoint.”

The number of inmates showing signs of suicidal behavior has risen, Reinke said, and with it, the number of 105-forms — a type of report that is generated whenever something out of the ordinary happens with an inmate, whether it be a fight, a suicide attempt or other mental problem. In June of 2012, the department filed 56 105 forms. This June, the number of 105 forms reached 78.

IDOC Chief of Prisons Kevin Kempf said the jump in mental health issues is difficult on staffers, who take immediate action as soon as they see signs of suicidal ideation or other urgent mental health problems in an inmate. Responding to each instance takes about six hours of that staffer's time. That can mean unexpected overtime cutting into an officer's time with family or friends, Kempf said, and that can make it difficult to decompress from the emotional stress of the job.

He told board members about one recent instance, when guards worked to calm a mentally ill male prisoner who had stripped naked and was wailing for his mother.

“We really should not be asking ourselves why do we have so much turnover. That's a ridiculous question. We should be asking ourselves 'how do we get people to stick around,'” Kempf said. “There's times when you have set plans to do something with your family that afternoon, and two hours before you leave the shift commander comes and says you have to stay.”

The state doesn't have a prison specifically for mentally ill inmates. Instead, the most critically mentally ill are housed in a unit at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution. Other prisoners with mental illness are housed with the rest of the inmate population.

In January, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter announced that the state would soon be building a $70 million, 579-bed mental health prison as part of his State of the State speech.

But less than a month later, Reinke withdrew the proposal with Otter's blessing, with the director saying he'd been beset with questions from lawmakers and residents about the project's projected $25 million annual costs and whether it was the right way to address Idaho's mental health issues.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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