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How local jails prevent inmate suicide

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) – The man serving life in prison, plus one-thousand years, for kidnapping and raping three women in Ohio, committed suicide in prison on Tuesday.

Ariel Castro, 52, hanged himself with a bed sheet in his cell,  according to Ohio Coroner, Dr. Jan Gorniak.  Castro was being held at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, Ohio.

Castro was not on “suicide watch” but was being housed alone in protective custody where security rounds are required every 30-minutes.

Castro’s lawyer called the suicide an “institutional failure.”  He says he tried twice to have a psychologist evaluate Castro, but his requests were denied.  Castro had served just 33 days of his sentence.

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, mental health policies and procedures changed in jails and prisons across the state.  Governor Tim Kaine appointed a panel then to look into several causes of the tragedy, including lapses within the court system.

Captain Matthew Wilkerson, the head of security at the Chesterfield County Jail, says strict policies and training are now in place to prevent depression, abnormal/erratic behavior and inmate suicides.

“I would say once or twice a week, we get an inmate that says ‘I’m thinking about hurting myself,’” Wilkerson says.

At the Chesterfield Jail, where a suicide took place in 2006, a full -time doctor is on staff and mental health experts come in four days a week to screen inmates and to look for warning signs.

Inmates who exhibit suicidal tendencies are placed on “suicide watch” in padded cells, where they are monitored every 15-minutes.

Wilkerson says any type of threat is removed from the inmate’s reach.

“That consists of taking their clothing and giving them a mesh-type garment to cover their body parts with,” Wilkerson says.

But even in general population cells, Wilkerson says suicide is not easy.

Sprinkler heads and lights are flush to the walls and ceilings and inmates are monitored every 30-minutes in staggered intervals.

“We physically interact with our inmates so you get to know them,” Wilkerson says.  “You can tell whether or not this guy is off today.”

Despite the precautions and procedures, Wilkerson says he understands how a determined inmate can take his life.

He says the jail staff has intervened in several suicide attempts.

Wilkerson says the warning signs aren’t always there and a suicide can occur in a matter of seconds.

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