Report shows rate of suicides in Arkansas prisons picking up significantly in 2024

Report shows rate of suicides in Arkansas prisons picking up significantly in 2024
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Overcrowded and understaffed prisons across Arkansas are facing another pressing issue: suicide rates among inmates.

Former Arkansas Department of Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri originally requested a study looking into the mental health issues and suicide rates in state prisons. The report handed over to the board last week shows the pace of these deaths are picking up significantly in prisons this year compared to last.

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The report shows six inmates in the Arkansas prison systems have taken their lives by suicide since the start of 2024. While it might sound like a low number compared to total inmate populations, compare that to last year’s total of eight inmate suicides over the span of the entire 12 months.

The report also reveals that every inmate who committed suicide this year sought out mental health services at least once and that most had done so within a week of taking their lives. Additionally, it shows that the mental health staff had offered worksheets to these inmates but no actual treatment or counseling.

The mental health issue inside state facilities was one of Sen. Ben Gilmore’s (R-Crossett) focuses when he sponsored the Protect Arkansas Act. The law is now adding a new position to the Department of Corrections to implement more evidence-based methods.

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The act also creates a recidivism task force, which meets regularly to discuss future legislation.

State Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) voted against that legislation back in the 2023 session, saying at the time he believed the solution to the overcrowding problem in the prisons was not more prison beds, but more mental health treatments and intervention. Tucker said Tuesday he believes there are still some positive aspects of the law, and this task force is a step in the right direction.

Tucker added that it is not just about suicide prevention but addressing mental health issues in general for everyone’s sake.

“Over 90% of them are going to get out and reenter society one day,” Tucker said. “When they get out we need them to be in stable conditions so they can re-enter safely for their own sake and our sake as well.”

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Secretary Lindsay Wallace, who is now working on implementing ways to address the issues, provided the following statement:

“In-custody suicides are on the rise across the country, including in Arkansas. We want to reverse that trend. To do that, we must be deliberate in how we address the mental health needs of our inmate population. Dr. Bratton’s suicide study reinforced that the services we provide need improvement. We are examining policies,  procedures and training for our staff to address the deficiencies noted. This is and will continue to be an ongoing assessment.

The Protect Arkansas Act requires evidence-based programming and that is why this position is necessary. While we offer programming already, streamlining programming options across the DOC to become more impactful to our population is key to reducing recidivism and creating safer communities for Arkansans.”

Department of Corrections Secretary Lindsay Wallace

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Late Tuesday, the Department of Corrections reported a new suspected suicide that happened earlier that day in the East Arkansas Regional Unit. If the investigation underway confirms that suspicion, this year would have a total of seven inmates who died from suicide.

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