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US inmate suicides show need for reforms, experts say

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
An officer patrols at the Metropolitan Detention Center after reports of a bomb threat at the facility on February 4, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Getty Images)

The high rate of suicides among inmates in the US state of New York illustrates how the country’s prison system fails to ensure the safety of prisoners in solitary confinement, experts say.

New York state prison inmates in solitary confinement or long-term “keeplock” units, in which inmates are isolated, were over five times more likely to kill themselves than prisoners in general confinement, according to a report from the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the state’s prison agency.

The report said that of the 130 inmate suicides from 2004 to 2013 in New York prisons, 30 were by prisoners in solitary or isolated housing, or a special treatment program.

The Justice Center, a state watchdog agency, has repeatedly found that prisons it inspects aren’t abiding by the rules.

Higher suicide rates for prisoners in solitary confinement is a pattern seen across the US, according to prison experts.

Cachin Anderson displayed many warning signs that he was a man in crisis before he took his life. Anderson killed himself on June 28, 2017, just two months after he landed in solitary confinement.

A review by New York’s Department of Corrections concluded that Anderson should have been put under a “one to one constant watch” until he could be seen by mental health staff.

The 33-year-old was serving a 10-year sentence for involvement in an assault on a parking attendant.

Anderson’s death followed others in solitary. In 2009, Amare Seltun killed himself while in solitary confinement at Attica Correctional Facility. Like Anderson, he had previously tried to kill himself.

Less than a year later, Amir Hall, who had borderline personality disorder and PTSD, was sentenced to seven months in solitary confinement after a series of confrontations with officers and other inmates. Less than two weeks later, he killed himself.

The Unites States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with over 2.2 million people behind bars. While the country represents about 4.3 percent of the world's population, it houses around 22 percent of the world's prisoners.

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