A new report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics finds more than 200 people have died by suicide in Washington and Oregon jails since 2000. This puts the Northwest states above the national average for jail suicides, according to
From 2000 to 2019, the average rate of suicide in jails nationally was 43 per 100,000 inmates. By contrast, Oregon’s jail suicide rate during that same time period was 48 per 100,000. In Washington it was 57 per 100,000.
In Oregon, the study found, the jail suicide rate leapt up to 70 per 100,000 from 2015 to 2019. Washington logged its highest rate, 79 per 100,000, during the 2010 to 2014 timeframe.
Among Western states, Arizona and California reported the lowest rates of jail suicides during the same time period.
Nationally, suicide accounted for 24 percent to 35 percent of deaths in local jails between 2001 and 2019, the report said. In 2019, nearly 30 percent of U.S. jail deaths were due to suicide. The peak came in 2015 when the suicide rate in U.S. jails reached 52 per 100,000 inmates. But overall, the national rate of suicide in jails was mostly unchanged in 2019 as compared to 2000.
Here are some other findings:
- Nationwide, white inmates were five times more likely to die by suicide in jail than Black inmates, and 3.5 times more likely than Hispanic inmates.
- Most jail suicides happened within the first 30 days of a person being behind bars.
- Hanging or strangulation was the most common manner of death.
- Nearly 77 percent of the people who died by suicide in U.S. jails had not been convicted. Jails are the entry point to the criminal justice system and often hold individuals who are awaiting trial.
The quality of health care in jails can also vary greatly despite the fact jails house some of the most complex and vulnerable people in society, including those with acute mental health and substance use disorders.
In Oregon, jails must adhere to a set of statewide standards and are subject to outside inspection. By contrast, Washington jails are required to develop their own standards to ensure the health, welfare and safety of inmates.
This year, Washington enacted a law that requires jail officials to conduct a fatality review anytime a person in custody dies unexpectedly. Those reviews must be completed within 120 days and be posted to a public website maintained by the state Department of Health.
My opinion? Jail is a dangerous place. Please read my Legal Guides titled, Quash Your Bench Warrant and Making Bail and contact my office if your friends or family are jailed. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.