Corizon Health Suicide Prevention Initiative – another step on the journey to eliminate suicides in prisons and jails

Suicide Prevention Initiative aims to eliminate suicides in Corizon Health facilitiesBy Mariann Burnetti-Atwell, Psy. D., CCHP, Senior Vice President of Behavioral Health Operations, Corizon Health

Several months ago, Corizon Health embarked on an initiative to eliminate suicides in the jails and prisons where we provide care. Corizon already had a strong record in suicide prevention, but we set this lofty – some would say impossible – goal because there simply is no number acceptable for completed suicides in a secure and supervised environment.

Yet, as a nation, the federal Department of Justice reports death by suicide in county jails is on the rise. The most recent federal Bureau of Justice Statistic reports showed the number of suicides in state prisons increased from 2013 to 2014 by 30 percent, an increase to 249 suicides from 192 the previous year. In local jails, suicide was the leading cause of death, accounting for a stunning 35 percent of all jail inmate deaths, a 13 percent increase from 2013 to 2014.

Preventing suicides has always been a top priority at every facility where Corizon provides healthcare services. The stress of incarceration on the individual and their loved ones and high percentage of inmates with mental health issues are just two of the myriad of reasons that makes suicide such a high risk inside the walls.

It requires communications and coordination between all of the stakeholders involved: custody staff, inmates, healthcare staff, behavioral health staff, other corrections staff, medical providers, family members, visitors and volunteers. Any of these individuals may be aware of some aspect of the challenges facing a patient that could trigger an attempt, such as a sentencing or parole decision, family hardship, loss of a loved one or many other reasons.

Most importantly is collaboration and strong working relationships with our client partners. We have seen the best outcomes when working together. Correctional officers are the eyes and ears inside the facility and may be the first to recognize signs that an inmate is in crisis. Trust and open lines of communications between treatment and detention are essential in reducing suicide.

Our concentrated focus on this issue in recent months has resulted in a new policy that we are actively implementing throughout our facilities. Our policy, which complies with NCCHC and ACA standards, contains more robust guidance to our staff regarding the need for all clinicians to be continuously clinically diligent in assessing risk in patients. In other words, assessing risk is not a one-time occurrence or the job of only one person. All clinicians must continually be assessing the patients they encounter for signs of increased risk.

We also are working to ensure that no clinician has to alone bear responsibility for making the decision to remove a patient from suicide watch. Our new policy is that there must be agreement among more than one healthcare professional that a patient who has seriously attempted self-harm may return to general population. Quite simply, we believe there is value in discussion and that it is important to establish appropriate follow-up care that is individualized for each patient. This is better accomplished through collaboration and communication.

We believe that by working together, we can reverse the alarming rate of inmate suicides and make your facilities models for best practices, and we welcome your input and ideas.

To learn more about suicide prevention or schedule a suicide awareness training for your officers and staff, please contact your site’s Behavioral Health Lead or Health Services Administrator.