Editorial: Jailhouse suicides aren’t theories
Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide has prompted a rash of conspiracy theories about how a wealthy man in an infamous criminal case could have been left to kill himself.
There are the theories that the government had him killed. Or maybe it was the Clintons. Or maybe it was the even wealthier people who could have been implicated in his case should it go all the way to trial. Maybe it was the Russians. Maybe it was criminals.
Epstein’s death seems poised to be the new Kennedy assassination or Marilyn Monroe overdose. It is the death no one will ever accept at face value.
For just a moment, let’s ignore the rich, famous players alleged to be involved in Epstein’s wicked games. Let’s strip everything away but the demographics.
A man in jail awaiting trial appears to have died at his own hand. While it is the money and sex and politics that have drawn the public’s attention and focused on all of the reasons his suicide shouldn’t have happened, let’s focus on something else.
Suicides happen in jail. They happen a lot.
A 2015 report from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics called the number of people killing themselves in local jails “a national crisis.” The BJS numbers show people in jail — often awaiting a trial rather than serving a sentence — are more than three times more likely to commit suicide than those sentenced and incarcerated in a prison.
A Pennsylvania Post article showed the state had 81 county jail suicides between 2015 and 2018. Seven were in Allegheny County, four in Beaver, three in Washington, two in Westmoreland, one in Somerset. The 10-county region had 65 attempted suicides.
There have been more in 2019.
The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes incarceration as a “main risk factor for suicide.”
Epstein had at least two others — a prior attempt and being over 60.
When the very act of being brought into jail checks a major box on the list, caution and attention would seem to be good ideas in all county correctional facilities, especially when so many of those behind the bars are still supposed to be presumed innocent.
A jail is just the first step in a criminal court journey. It might just be for a few hours or a few days. At worst, it might be a couple of years. It isn’t supposed to be where a life ends.
Maybe the focus on Epstein’s death could result in just a little attention given to the national crisis of jailhouse suicides. Most of them are facts, not theories.