×

Risks behind bars: Suicide attempts have increased at county jail

Photo by Gregory Bacon An inmate rests his arm in a cell at the Chautauqua County Jail. Sheriff James Quattrone said there have been 18 inmate suicide attempts at the jail this year and 64 attempts since 2018. He attributes the increase to restrictions imposed during the COVID pandemic and due to New York’s bail reform

MAYVILLE — The number of inmates who have attempted suicide at the Chautauqua County Jail has increased significantly in the last two and a half years.

Sheriff James Quattrone believes the spike can be directly linked to the restrictions imposed during the COVID pandemic and due to New York’s bail reform law.

According to information shared with The Post-Journal, 64 inmate suicide attempts were reported from Jan. 1, 2018, to Oct. 18 of this year at the 15 E. Chautauqua St. jail. Forty-five of those attempts in the nearly five-year span involved men, while 19 involved women.

There have been 18 inmate suicide attempts at the Chautauqua County Jail this year. Quattrone said corrections officers and staff were able to “save the incarcerated individuals” in those attempts.

“We do have some great correctional staff as well as mental health and medical providers that are constantly working to provide care to those incarcerated,” he said.

However, Quattrone did confirm that two inmates have died by suicide since 2018, one that was reported in 2021. The other occurred this month — on Wednesday, Dec. 7.

Mayville volunteer firefighters and Chautauqua County EMS responded to the jail shortly before 8 p.m. for a subject with a neck injury. Quattrone said an inmate alerted a corrections officer of a problem with another inmate.

“Correction officers and nursing staff responded immediately and began emergency care,” he said. “(The) Mayville Volunteer Fire Department responded and also administered emergency care. However, all attempts were unable to revive the individual.”

Quattrone said it’s his policy not to identify the victims of suicide — whether in the jail or elsewhere in the county.

A county coroner was summoned later Dec. 7 to the jail.

Quattrone said the state Attorney General’s Office and state Commission of Correction were also notified of the inmate’s death.

A NATIONAL TREND

A report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics noted that more than 6,200 inmates in custody at local jails across the country died by suicide from 2000 to 2019 — an increase of 13% over that period. The October 2021 report, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, said those who died by suicide were most often male, non-Hispanic white, incarcerated for a violent crime. More than three-quarters of those jail inmates were unconvicted and awaiting adjudication of their charges.

Further, 46% of the inmates noted in the report who died by suicide from 2000 to 2019 had been held for seven days or less at the time of their death.

In state and federal prisons, 4,500 people died by suicide from 2001 to 2019 — an increase of 83% over that period.

A RECENT INCREASE LOCALLY

A majority of the 64 inmate suicide attempts at the Chautauqua County Jail since 2018 have occurred in the last two and a half years. Quattrone believes there is a connection with the recent spike to restrictions imposed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as New York’s elimination of bail and detention for most nonviolent crimes.

In-person visitation and volunteer programs were halted during the height of the pandemic, though the sheriff said some video visitations still occurred.

“Throughout the pandemic we had complaints from incarcerated individuals regarding the lack of visitors as well as on programs,” Quattrone said. “We also heard from our counseling staff that individuals were having difficult times.”

The jail, as did other correctional facilities across the country, experienced outbreaks of the virus among inmates and staff. In early December 2020, 26 inmates had tested positive, prompting the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office to coordinate with the county Health Department to contain the outbreak.

While Quattrone acknowledged the COVID outbreaks at the jail, he questions whether “shutting down all visitation and programs was effective in limiting exposure.”

He added, “There is an inherited danger in limiting social interaction as we are social beings. I am not sure if I have a better solution to the issue so I cannot complain about what the experts imposed.”

But the sheriff also points to bail reform, in which New York eliminated bail for many nonviolent felonies and required appearance tickets instead of arrests for low-level offenses. The changes kicked in months before the coronavirus pandemic.

Quattrone estimates many who become incarcerated only seem to get medical and mental health treatment when they are in the jail. He said jail personnel provide mental health counseling as well as substance use/abuse counseling. Inmates also have access to various faith-based programs.

“The staff works extremely hard in connecting incarcerated individuals with services once they are released from the jail, but unfortunately most of those releases do not follow through with those connections,” Quattrone said. “Many times the treatments in the jail truly are the only services they receive, and when individuals are released on appearance tickets or no bail they do not get services.”

Newsletter

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *
   

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today