“Our jails are a mirror of our community. If it’s happening in our community, it’s happening in our jails.”
— Carrie Hill, National Sheriff’s Association
If I were to believe Facebook posts this past week, Bill and Hillary have ordered more hits than all the past five New York Mafia dons combined. Then there are the other conspiracy theories that President Donald Trump and Attorney General Barr had Jeffrey Epstein offed. I saw one meme on Facebook that insinuated that the Clintons were responsible for at least 52 deaths of people who had crossed them over their respective political careers.
So, just what happened to the disgraced billionaire who was being charged with child sex trafficking among many other almost-too-hideous-to-want-to-think-about charges? And how could anyone ever kill themselves in jail while supposedly under supervision and half-hour checks?
I have worked in a jail setting and had an office in a jail for a decade now. While I am open to a bit of discussion and cynicism, I understand from unique perspective how things work in a jail environment. I have often told people who are shocked that a suicide somehow occurs in a jail setting that I am amazed they do not occur on a regular basis.
I have worked under two full-term and one intermediate Sheriff in Clark County, Indiana. Let me first share some statistics that I have found out this week doing research. On average, around 300 inmates die every year in temporary holding facilities, i.e. jails. Jail inmates are seven times more likely to die by suicide than they would if they were in a permanent prison facility. One-fourth of those who commit suicide in a jail will make the initial attempt within the first 24 hours.
I can personally attest to the fact that at any given time, there are people on suicide watch in the jail with which I am associated. There might be one and there might be several. I think the general public has a major misconception of just what that means. No jail I have ever heard of has the manpower for a corrections officer to watch any inmate one-on-one.
While I will not give any numbers regarding the local jail staffing or inmate-to-officer ratio, I feel confident that staffing shortages in corrections exists nationwide. Turnover rates for corrections officers are among the highest for any profession. The guards assigned to check on Epstein had routinely been working 60 hours of more per week for prolonged periods of time.
I have worked with corrections officers over many years who routinely had hundreds of hours of compensation time on the books since there is rarely money to pay mandatory overtime. While Epstein will certainly shed light on problems that exists nationwide in jails and prisons regarding staffing and operations — his high profile death is just another in a surreal environment where mental health and jail professionals have to deal every single day with inmates either having had suicide attempts in the past or threatening to hurt themselves while incarcerated. It is not uncommon for inmates to threaten to harm themselves just to get separated from the general population.
Often when a person has been originally placed on suicide watch, they change their mind and want to get back to the general population. If what I have read is accurate in the case of Epstein, after his initial attempt was unsuccessful, his attorneys argued for him to be taken off the more restrictive full suicide watch status.
Clark County always has a mental health professional on staff. They must deal with every person who is suicidal or who has other mental health issues while incarcerated. And the very outnumbered jail staff must somehow tend to other duties and functions of running a jail with hundreds of other inmates, yet try to keep every single one of them safe.
In my personal daily experience locally, that task has been phenomenally successful in the past 10 years. I do know that many people working at the jail other than myself attribute that to due diligence and more than a little bit of good old-fashioned luck. The general public will always know of the successful suicide attempts. The exponentially more times that a suicide attempt is unsuccessful or thwarted by a very diligent act of a corrections officer will never be made public. It is not a rare occurrence in any jail in America on any given week.
I have no idea if there was foul play or if a professional hit was covered up regarding Jeffrey Epstein. If any good comes from the Epstein matter, I hope light is shed on the hard working, overextended, underpaid, and certainly underappreciated corrections officers. I know they have an impossible task daily to ensure such headlines are not made locally. Clark County at any time can be housing around 600 inmates.
And I can assure you that every single day that such a headline is not appearing in this or any other newspaper — a lot of them are doing a hell of a job.
— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at email@example.com.