Suicide is the leading cause of death within jails. Our jails have become what they were never designed or staffed to be: America’s de facto mental-health institutions, because too many citizens with serious mental-health issues end up there.
Until the end, Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy white financier with many powerful friends and clients, was a previously convicted sex offender who was facing a new indictment on sex-trafficking charges when he died by suicide in the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City.
We will probably never know exactly why Epstein killed himself. But we shouldn’t let what we don’t know about his death distract us from what we do know: Suicides in jails happen with disturbing frequency, and for many, it’s not a cynical ploy to avoid justice but just the final act of an under-addressed mental-health crisis, exacerbated by inhumane conditions.
Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old African American woman, was driving to a new job in Texas in July 2015 when a state trooper pulled her over for failing to signal for a lane change.
Incredibly, the trooper transported Bland to the Waller County jail. Three days later, a jail officer found her hanging from a plastic garbage-can liner tied to a post in her cell. She had not been seen by any jail staff for more than 90 minutes. Both cases led to a nationwide furor, and both cases point to a broader suicide problem. Who is responsible when an inmate dies by suicide?
Suicide has been a lingering problem in detention facilities, and systemic factors—such as inattention, understaffing, or inadequate training—generally offer a simpler explanation for a prisoner’s death than nefarious intent.
Of course, many might ask: Who cares?
The answer has always been…… and continues to be the same. Preserving life is our moral and legal responsibility. Inmates and Detainees could easily be our daughters, our sisters, our loved ones, or our friends.
Sandra Bland’s death resulted in significant reform of local jail suicide-prevention practices in Texas. At a minimum, perhaps Jeffrey Epstein’s death will result in renewed efforts to require an accounting of the number of people that die in jails nationwide.
But suicide is so common in jail, in part, because too many citizens with serious mental-health issues end up there. Increasingly, officers are called on to be the first — and often the only — responders to calls involving people experiencing a mental health crisis.
In this Insider Exclusive “Justice in America” Network TV Special, “America’s Prison Suicide Epidemic – Hunter Lee Johnson’s Story” our news team is on location in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with John Robinson, Partner, at Robinson Stelting Welch Bramlet, LLC…. and Brenda Johnson, Hunter Lee’s mother to go behind the headlines of the tragic death of Brenda’s 19-year old son, Hunter Lee Johnson, who died of suicide, the day after Christmas, December 26th, 2015, in the custody of the Laramie County, Wyoming Detention Center.
His death was totally preventable. He had been arrested only on public intoxication and threatening to ‘kill himself’ at a local Walmart only 5 days earlier. The jail staff had been put on notice of Hunters’ psychiatric instability by his parents, who brought his prescription medicine to treat anxiety and depression to the jail.
The staff placed him on 15-minute suicide watch, and kept him in a cell in the central booking area for closer supervision, but he was moved later that day. Johnson had repeatedly told the jail staff that he was having suicidal thoughts before his death, and they still left him unsupervised while he was detoxifying from alcohol addiction, and coping with severe depression.
At the same time, his 15-minute watch was discontinued, a 30-minute watch was implemented. Hunter’s 30-minute watch was discontinued on December 21st, 2015.
On December 22nd, 2015, Hunter was placed in the central booking area where, that had a live video feed in his cell. Here he is seen tying his shirt around his neck, and trying to find a way to hang himself.
He was later moved to another cell in segregation, and 35 minutes later he successfully committed suicide, despite the fact that the Laramie County, Wyoming Detention Center mental health staff knew he was an immediate risk to his own safety.
In this special Network TV Investigation, John Robinson shares answers with the Insider Exclusive News team and our viewers, on important issues like:
What does “Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs” mean?
And …. What kind of “adequate” health care is covered under the Eighth Amendment?
John Robinson has earned the highest respect from citizens and lawyers alike…. as one of the best Trial lawyers in Jackson Hole, and across Wyoming. He is driven to fight for people who have been harmed by the willful or negligent actions of others.
His goals are not only to get Justice for his clients, but to make sure that everyone is treated with equal respect and dignity as guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States.
He has built a substantial reputation by consistently winning cases other law firms have turned down. His amazing courtroom skills and headline grabbing success rate continue to provide his clients with the results they need……And the results they deserve.
You can contact John Robinson at https://rsw-law.com/ 307 733 7703