Prison suicides rise; officials deny trend


New York State Department of Correctional Services
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Suicides in New York state prisons soared in 2010 to their highest rate in 28 years as 20 inmates took their own lives, according to figures from the state Department of Correctional Services.

 

The figures show that twice as many suicides occurred this year as in 2008 or 2009. Moreover, while prison suicide is sometimes prone to spiking in individual years, a longer-term trend is clear — the suicide rate rose 23 percent from the 1990s to the 2000s, according to a Poughkeepsie Journal analysis.

Among the suicides this year, three were in local facilities — two in Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill and one in Shawangunk prison in Wallkill. They are among eight state prisons in Dutchess and Ulster counties that employ nearly 4,400 people and house 7,700 inmates, 165 of them sentenced by local counties.

Prison officials acknowledged the suicide rate was at a two-decade high but noted that suicides fluctuate, reaching 18 in both 2005 and 2007. “We do not regard this year’s total as the beginning of a trend, since the numbers have gone up and down,” said Erik Kriss, director of public information.

But inmate advocates expressed concern and said the 2010 deaths reflected a system that is failing to treat troubled inmates.

“A prison sentence shouldn’t be the equivalent of a death sentence,” said Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, a prison watchdog group, who noted that 11 suicides occurred among inmates not receiving psychiatric care. “Obviously they needed mental health services or they wouldn’t have killed themselves.”

 

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