Suicides in LA County jails drop by half

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Half the number of inmates committed suicide in Los Angeles County jails last year than in 2013 - five instead 10 - according to new data from the Sheriff's Department. The drop comes a year after federal officials said the rates were too high and jailers weren't doing enough to prevent suicides.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Kelley Frasier said deputies and mental health professionals have set suicide reduction as a top priority. For instance, after noticing a trend in higher rates of attempted suicide among inmates housed in "single-man cells," she said they changed the practice.

"We came to the table and we said, 'let’s make a conscious effort, let’s not put them in single-man cells,' " she said.

In other cases, more mental health teams were dispatched to check on isolated inmates more often.

Also down are the number of cases in which inmates seriously harmed themselves: 71 in 2014 down from 110 in 2013. Those "self harm" cases mostly involved cutting but also include attempted suicides, according to Jefferey Marsh, the supervising psychiatrist for L.A. County's Jail Mental Health Services.

Overall, the number of self-harm cases increased, but those can include behavioral problems like excessive scratching and head banging. Officials documented 497 cases of self-harm in the L.A. County Jails in 2014. In 2013, 366 cases were reported.

Frasier said new training and more staff led to better reporting procedures in 2014, which can explain the jump in overall self-harm cases.

Last year, the Department of Justice warned L.A. County about its high rate of jail suicides and threatened a consent decree in light of concerns that the jails are unsuitable for mentally-ill inmates. The Department of Justice would not comment on the status of a consent decree, nor the new data.

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