Bristol County Sheriff Tackles Inmate Suicide Prevention After Expert’s Review
After a three-day on-site review by a nationally recognized expert, Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux began taking affirmative steps toward fulfilling a campaign promise of curbing the rate of inmate suicide in the county jails.
The Bristol County Sheriff's Office reportedly has had the highest rate of inmate suicide in Massachusetts, an issue Heroux had repeatedly raised in his successful campaign to unseat longtime Sheriff Tom Hodgson last year.
After an inmate had committed suicide just 36 hours into Heroux's tenure as sheriff, he said there were "blindspots" in the BSCO's suicide prevention efforts. A few weeks later, he contracted with an expert in an effort to identify those blindspots.
The expert, Lindsay Hayes, has an extensive background in inmate suicide prevention that includes work with the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.
Hayes visited the House of Correction in Dartmouth and the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford on March 6, 7 and 8 to interview staff and inmates, review policies and procedures, and examine the physical infrastructure of the building.
He then met with Heroux and BCSO leadership to deliver his immediate findings.
Hayes will also be drafting a full report with further recommendations that Heroux said should be ready in approximately one month.
Heroux has committed to making Hayes' final report available to the public once it is completed.
Heroux recently appeared on WBSM's SouthCoast Tonight to talk about some of the measures they can begin implementing from Hayes's initial findings.
One of the immediately identifiable suicide hazards, Heroux said, were the bunk beds at the Dartmouth House of Correction.
"One out of the findings was that seven out of seven suicides at Dartmouth were done using the bunk beds," Heroux said.
"So that is a big red flag to me," he said. "Like, why didn't (the BCSO) look at that a little bit more closely and make the beds more suicide resistant to reduce the risk?"
Heroux said that BCSO Superintendent Steve Sousa has begun contacting other sheriff's offices to compare and contrast the bunk beds they use.
One of the modifications to the beds that can be made in the short term, Heroux explained, is making the crossbars on the bunkbeds less accessible for an inmate to tie something to it that would allow them to committee suicide by hanging.
Hayes' initial findings, according to Heroux, identified many more changes to the physical structure of the building they can make, and also identified procedural changes such as improving their intake screening process so that they can better identify inmates who are suicide risks when they come in to the jails.
Heroux admitted that there is no way to fully prevent suicides from occurring the jails, but said they can do everything they can to mitigate the risks of suicide and lower the rate in which they happen.
The new sheriff also said it is clear that the BCSO has a laborious and expensive task ahead to accomplish their goal, but wanted to emphasize that he is ushering in a change in attitude on how the Bristol County Sheriff's Office approaches the issue of inmate suicides.
"The way we address (inmate suicides) is an attitude, it's a mindset, it's a perspective on what we should focus on," Heroux said.
Listen to Sheriff Heroux on SouthCoast Tonight: