Every once in a while, we come across distressing stories about inmates who commit suicide while in custody. The people who are in charge of the inmates tend to face lots of criticism, whenever such cases of suicide in custody arise. This is because of the suspicion that tends to emerge — the suspicion that the authorities may have gotten rid of the inmates, and then claimed that the inmates committed suicide. It doesn’t help that in most cases, the inmates who commit suicide are those who are in custody due to sensitive cases. Therefore, one is always left with the feeling that there are folks who could take the inmates out, to hide evidence (or to achieve some other nefarious objective) — and then claim that the inmates committed suicide.

The challenge that comes up, then, is on how to ensure that the inmates don’t commit suicide while in custody. And some of the ways in which this objective can be achieved include:

  1. By ensuring that all inmates have cellmates (except those who really have to be secluded)
  2. By ensuring that the inmates don’t go into the cells with objectives that they can commit suicide with
  3. By installing surveillance cameras in the cells and cell corridors
  4. By interrogating the inmates who have to be interrogated in a humane manner, so as to ensure that they are not dehumanized to the point of considering suicide
  5. By putting high risk inmates on suicide watch

The latter point, of putting high risk inmates on suicide watch sometimes comes with certain challenges. This is because some inmates who may seem to be at low risk of suicide may actually be at high risk. Some may be folks who are shameful of the circumstances under which they were arrested. You may find, for instance, someone who has been arrested (perhaps on being framed) for shoplifting. Yet he has a decent job at, say, Darden restaurants – meaning that he gets regular paychecks at krowd.darden.com. It would be hard for him to explain these circumstances, because even if he was short of funds, he could surely rely on the Darden paystubs to request for a short-term loan. Yet he has been arrested for shoplifting. These circumstances can induce a lot of shame, which can in turn drive a weak-willed individual to consider suicide. Now from a low enforcement perspective, this would appear like a low risk shoplifting suspect. But due to the shame factor, this sort of individual may be at risk of suicide in custody. Therefore, in assessing the high risk suspects to be put under suicide watch, the best thing is to take a case by case perspective.